Gatos do Sul
Brian Marsella with Tim Keiper, Jorge Roeder, Cyro Baptista, Felipe Hostins, John Lee, Itai Kriss, Jon Irabagon
Philadelphia-bred keyboardist Brian Marsella seemed destined to end up in John Zorn’s extended musical family. His voracious stylistic appetite has made him one of the most versatile pianists in New York, where he moved in 1998 and attended the New School. After working largely in funk and R&B contexts in his hometown, his involvement in the ambitious ten-piece Fresh Cut Orchestra helped his diverse interests coalesce in a jazz context. He first entered Zorn’s orbit as a key member of Beat the Donkey, the sprawling post-Brazilian roots and dance band led by percussionist Cyro Baptista.
Since relocating he’s become intimately involved in a variety of Zorn-related projects, whether the prog-rock repertoire of Chaos Magick (alongside organist John Medeski, drummer Kenny Grohowski, and guitarist Matt Hollenberg), Ikue Mori’s recent project Archipelago X with percussionist Sae Hashimoto, or Zorn-produced projects celebrating pianists like Cecil Taylor and the Legendary Hasaan. He leads a lightning-fast piano trio with bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen that’s been a key player in Zorn’s Bagatelles repertoire, leading the Chicago Reader to say the music evokes, “individualists such as Herbie Nichols or Bud Powell playing at warp speed.” The group has also operated outside of that context, playing Marsella originals. He’s also worked recently as a member of the Nels Cline Singers.
In 2020 he debuted a dynamic new octet on a Tzadik album called Gatos do Sul that straddles several complementary realms, dashing easily between post-bop, fusion, and Brazilian forms like choro, samba, and bossa nova with a heavy dose of razor-sharp improvisation. Marsella’s early boss Baptista, bassist Pablo Aslan, and drummer Tim Keiper power the music’s elastic grooves, with a gorgeous blend of saxophone, violin, flute, acoustic guitar, accordion, and the leader’s piano filling out the changing rhythmic landscapes with bubbling, ebullient melodies and fiery solos. He leads a stripped down version of the ensemble here with percussionist Baptista, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and violinist Mark Feldman.