John Zorn: Bagatelles
Brian Marsella Trio & John Medeski Trio
Between March and May of 2015, John Zorn set about writing a new book of compositions, following the massive collection of tunes he’d penned for his Masada quartet. The Masada book was soon interpreted by a diverse array of artists, some pre-existing, some assembled specifically by Zorn for the project. He ended up writing over 300 pieces for that second book, Bagatelles, embracing a more atonal approach to inspire greater improvisational possibilities. In the years since, a variety of ensembles have forged close connections to the pieces Zorn assigned to them, and the groups performing during Big Ears have fully internalized the works.
This particular Bagatelles program features two radically disparate ensembles that both feature keyboard-led trios. Philadelphia native Brian Marsella is a serious polymath who can move between Brazilian traditions, funk, and bebop without breaking a sweat. In this context he summons the spirit of idiosyncratic 1950s greats like Bud Powell, Herbie Nichols, Elmo Hope, and the overlooked 1960s figure Hasaan as he blitzes through Zorn’s tricky themes with athletic glee. Supported by bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen, Marsella’s trio careens through tempo shifts and key changes with astonishing speed and precision, capturing the virtuosic intensity of bebop perfectly. John Medeski—of Medeski, Martin & Wood fame—pushes Zorn’s theme toward fusion, applying lightning fast runs on his Hammond atop the high-wire rhythms sculpted by his long-time collaborator, guitarist David Fiuczynski, and the explosive drummer G. Calvin Weston, a punk-funk maestro who’s worked frequently with guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer.