From L to R: Edward Gavitt, Andres Valbuena, Steve Williams, Alfredo Colón. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jazz musicians have long mined contemporary popular culture to find new avenues of expression, whether Sonny Rollins’s inveterate exploration of hidden songbook gems, Miles Davis’s psychedelic fusions, or Brad Mehldau’s rhapsodic takes on Radiohead. Secret Mall—a young collective featuring Alfredo Colón on EWI, Edward Gavitt on guitar, Steve Williams on bass, and Andres Valbuena on drums—continues this tradition through their exploration of electronic music subgenres like Vaporwave and popular music more generally.

This Thursday, July 27th, Secret Mall will make their Jazz Gallery debut with two sets of subversive covers and curious originals. We caught up with members Colón, Gavitt, and Williams earlier this month to talk about the group’s origins, their upcoming EP release, and their thoughts on the silly and the serious in music.

The Jazz Gallery: How did you guys meet and how did this project start?

Alfredo Colón: I took a few lessons with Dayna Stephens and I was really inspired by his group 3WI, which features Gilad Heckselman on guitar and Adam Arruda on drums. I wanted to try doing the EWI trio thing—a bassless EWI trio with guitar and drums. So I tried that out with Ed, and a different drummer, and the result was, to be honest, kinda sad. Later, we got these gigs where we had the opportunity to put together our own music. We were playing outside, and it was a very low pressure gig, so we were really just focused on getting guys we liked hanging out with. Eventually the group became what it is now, not a bassless EWI trio, but Secret Mall.

Steve Williams: I got the call for the gig via Skype—well actually no, not Skype. I was in Texas visiting home for part of the summer, and Alfredo sent me about 10 Snapchats in a row while he was pretty drunk, being like “Yooo, we’re trying to do this EWI group. I want you to play bass.  We have this gig on July 21st, can you do it?” I was thinking “that’s the day I’m coming back from Texas” so I replied “ok, that’s the day I get back, I can do it then, but we have to rehearse that day.” Keep in mind, up to this point they have not heard me play bass yet.

AC: I hired Steve based on personality alone. And then when I got to the gig and he starts playing, I was like “Oh shit, he can play!” 

TJG: So this is definitely a friends group. What does that allow you guys to do musically, that you might not be able to do with people you don’t know?

Ed Gavitt: I think it allows us to open up more from a musical perspective. A really good example is when we took this gig at Yale. We basically hung out for 9 or 10 hours straight that day. We got into some deep jokes and I think that translated to the show—I still think that’s the most successful gig we’ve had yet. We were so comfortable in the musical setting to mess around with stuff and go in lots of different places that well-rehearsed bands don’t get to because they rehearse so much—for many of them it’s all about getting the music right and how it is on paper.

SW: I think there’s a certain amount of trust that’s there when you’re good friends with the people you’re playing with in that if we were all just sideman on this gig, and if all we did was only rehearse and not talk before and after the gigs, it wouldn’t be the same. Knowing each other so well creates an inherent trust that goes in. Our personalities off the instruments lead us to trust the personalities on the instruments.

TJG: And your inside jokes make their way into the music literally, right?

AC: So we have an EP coming out called the Yee(P)—Yee is a meme from 2010 that’s become probably the biggest inside joke in the group. If you look up Yee, it should be a six second video of a dinosaur singing [scats the melody]—we found out that the source video for that meme was from a bootleg version of the Land Before Time made by German people and sold in Italy, and we transcribed some of the text that one of the characters named Peek says, and it’s become not only the inspiration for title of our EP, but one of the tunes that we play and it’s become a musical phrase that we use throughout our sets.


Pascal and Remy LeBoeuf. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Sunday, July 23rd, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome The LeBoeuf Brothers back to our stage. Rey (saxophone) and Pascal (piano) have been stalwarts on the New York scene since their student days at the Manhattan School of Music, continually expanding their musical vision in multiple directions at once. Their most recent album, imaginist, features a suite of original compositions inspired by Russian poets of the early 20th century, and featuring a nine-piece hybrid ensemble featuring the leading contemporary classical group JACK Quartet. Check out the arresting music below:

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Roopa Mahedevan is an in-demand Carnatic vocalist on the New York music scene, as well as around the U.S. and India. She sings regularly with a variety of Bharathanatyam dance productions and artists, and is herself a trained Bharathanatyam dancer. Roopa is the artistic director of the Navatman Music Collective, an Indian Classical Vocal ensemble, founded in 2014 by Sahi Sambamoorthy. The Collective released its first album, An Untimely Joy, in 2016.  Roopa is a core member of Brooklyn Raga Massive, who are joining her in hosting two sets at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, July 21st, as part of their “Raga Roots” series. For her Jazz Gallery debut Roopa will be joined by Anjna Swaminathan on violin and Abhinav Seetharaman on mridangam.

Roopa has a full-time job in public health policy, and wields degrees in biology and cognitive science. We caught up with her at a Midtown Manhattan coffee shop, in between her day job and her evening rehearsal, and chatted about the various projects she’s involved in, and about the challenges and opportunities that arise when playing Carnatic music in shifting settings.

The Jazz Gallery: Could you start by setting the stage for this upcoming show at the Gallery?

Roopa Mahadevan: It’s going to be pretty much a traditional Carnatic concert. I’ll be singing Carnatic vocal music. On the violin is Anjna Swaminathan. And on the mridangam, or double-headed percussion, is Abhinav Seetharaman. Carnatic musicians often don’t rehearse ahead of time, or make decisions collaboratively before they get on stage. Often the “main artist”—in this case it’s a vocal concert, so the vocalist becomes the main artist—will have a sense of what they want to do, but they may not necessarily tell the accompanists ahead of time. Because if you are a professional Carnatic artist, you’ve already spent years and years learning the technique and repertoire, so even if you don’t know a specific song, if you know the raga, or the scale, and the tala, or the rhythmic structure, you should be able to just go with it.

It’s interesting because it’s an hour-long set, which is short for Carnatic concerts. If you want to do full justice to all of the options that are available in a Carnatic concert, you could do a two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour concert. So it’s actually kind of an interesting challenge, to do this kind of music, in a setting like The Jazz Gallery, because—how do I include all of the elements I want to include in an hour? But I also think that all of us want to go deeper into the pieces that we do. There is sort of a trend in Carnatic music to amass as much as you can and then kind of vomit it all out, and I actually think there’s a lot of value in being patient with how you treat a particular piece. So this [shorter set] will help me actually, to do that.

The other interesting thing about this gig is that there are two sets. And that’s really weird for us. You don’t do two sets! So I have to decide—am I doing two different sets, or the same set twice? That’s what happens, though, when you do this music in a different kind of cultural context, these issues come up. And I would also just add that my generation of Carnatic musicians, and those of us that are not so tied to all the cultural constraints of performing it in India, for example, we share our set ahead of time. Because we want everyone to be at their best. So this idea of surprising the violinist—“hey you didn’t know I was going to do that!”—it doesn’t mean much. I’d rather us all be able to enjoy everything when we’re on stage. Knowing that the other musicians are happy and confident gives me confidence. It feels like we’re in it together as a team.

TJG: Have the three of you played together as a group before?

RM: Anjna and I have played together many times. Abhinav is very busy—he’s as student at Columbia—it’s hard to track him down. The last time we all played together actually was for my group, Navatman Music Collective. I composed a tillana, a little rhythmic piece. We had Abhinav, Anjna, and then a Portuguese guitarist, Pedro Henriques da Silva.


Michael Cain (middle) and members of Sola. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A true musical polymath, pianist Michael Cain has forged a unique path through the international jazz scene over the last three decades. Cain has worked closely with artists as diverse as Jack DeJohnette, Billy Higgins, Greg Osby, and Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello, and his own music draws from traditions from around the world. His current working band is called Sola, and finds Cain exploring various forms of hip hop and electronica. An old Gallery regular, Cain will bring Sola to our stage this Thursday, July 20th, for two sets. We caught up with Cain last week by phone; excerpts of the conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: What’s your history with The Jazz Gallery?

Michael Cain: I’ve played there many times, but it’s been a while. I used to play there all the time when it first opened. The Gallery was my spot—it was my favorite. I’ve been friends with Rio Sakairi since before the Gallery opened, so I’ve seen it go through its various evolutions.

TJG: Can you talk about your band Sola, which is coming to the Gallery?

MC: Sola is the name of my working band right now, and the name of my last album. It was a combination of different horns and keyboard sounds and electronics. It’s an ensemble that helps me get to the world that I like living in.

TJG: What is that world?

MC: I would say that it’s some sort of combination of jazz, and some hip hop in there, and EDM and electronica, and somewhere there’s rock & roll—a kind of hybrid music. I hear all of those elements most clearly in the music.

TJG: Who are some of the people in the hip hop world that you’ve been listening to recently?

MC: I’m really into Kendrick Lamar and I’ve been spending a lot of time with Jay-Z’s new album. Definitely a lot of Migos.

For me, I need to hear what’s happening in the community right now, what people are dancing to. These days, I feel like I live in different places. I teach at Brandon University in Canada, and I spend a lot of time nowadays in Las Vegas, which is my hometown. When I’m in Vegas—which is a great place for music—I’m going out clubbing every night I can. So I’m listening to whatever’s playing in the club, whatever remixes are coming through. I feel I have to get that side of the music.

In my music—I’m 51 years old, so I’m not trying to imitate that music. But I have to hear that music to get to the sounds that I want to play, for some reason. I’ll start there, and really get a sense of what people are dancing to in a big way.

TJG: Are you trying to directly connect to this popular culture with your music, or is it just something that you’re opening yourself up to as a potential influence?

MC: That’s a great question. I would answer that two ways. One, because I’ve been a teacher for so long, I’m always connected to young culture. I keep getting older every year, but the students don’t, so I always have to stay plugged into what they’re talking about. Teaching is an exchange for sure, so they’re learning from me and I’m learning from them. So that’s part of it, but my ear has always naturally flowed that way too. I’ve always been fascinated with the music that young people are making. I’ve always been interested in their perspective—the sounds, the ideas, the concepts, how they’re constructing their world.

More specifically, it’s the nature of dance. It’s what’s happening in the club. For me, the club is the ritual. That’s where a lot of the music is really alive. What’s interesting about clubbing in Vegas, though, is that it’s not a velvet rope thing, or an age thing. Everybody from all generations can be there. I feel that the club is where everything comes together—the people, the dance, the sound, the energy. Because I study this music so much, when I go to write my own music, I can really feel how those sounds and sensibilities can play out in what I’m doing.


Design by The Jazz Gallery.

The saxophonist Ravi Coltrane has carved out a long, probing career that proudly stands apart from those of his parents, Alice and John. But there’s no denying their outsize influence on his life and musicianship. John died in 1967, when Ravi was not yet two years old, leaving Alice to raise him.

“I would say first and foremost she played music in the house every day,” he told NPR. “And I’d come home from school and she’d be at the piano or the organ you know playing these quiet sort of hymns.”
Ravi honored his mother in concert earlier this year, and on Tuesday, July 18th and Wednesday, July 19th at The Jazz Gallery, Ravi will pay tribute once again in “Universal Consciousness: Melodic Meditations Of Alice Coltrane.” The shows are named after Alice’s revered 1971 album “Universal Consciousness,” which features her swirling harp and organ solos over modal grooves from Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Garrison and others. For these shows, he’s enlisted a top notch team of players to conjure new possibilities from Alice’s music, including Brandee Younger on harp and David Virelles on organ, as well as swirling percussive sounds from the likes of Johnathan Blake, Marcus Gilmore, Eric McPherson, and Roman Diaz. It’s sure to be a mystical and highly personal affair. Before coming to the Gallery to hear these melodic meditations, check out Coltrane and his home-base quartet playing the famed NPR Tiny Desk.