A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by David Austin

Photo courtesy of the artist.

The members of Aurelia Trio—pianist Theo Walentiny, bassist Nick Dunston, and drummer Connor Parks—met during their first year studying at the New School and quickly formed a tight musical bond. Out of their diverse backgrounds and musical interests, they have begun to forge a distinct and individual sound. Last year, they self-released an eponymous debut record, which you can check out below.
This Thursday, September 21st, Aurelia Trio will make their debut at The jazz Gallery, playing original compositions by all three members of the band. We sat down with the trio to talk about their origins and their constantly-evolving musical rapport.

The Jazz Gallery: How did the Aurelia Trio form?

Theo Walentiny: At the end of my first year I started an octet out of which this band formed—it’s kind of funny, that band has a lot of bands within it. There’s a quartet with a guitarist in it and us as well.

TJG: Has the concept for the band remained consistent since the beginning?

Connor Parks: It’s evolved but some things have remained consistent, especially the way that we deal with time and rhythm. We really had a rhythmic consensus from the beginning. That feeling is the same, the connection is the same. But the kinds of aesthetics and the various types of music that everyone writes and wants to play has evolved over time.

TJG: The first track of your EP, Blue Air, seemed to be very free. What was the time consensus on that tune?

CP: I feel like everyone will have a different answer. Nick and I have a very unique way of playing together, and Theo and I have a very unique way of playing together, and they have a unique bond too. Speaking rhythmically, I’m very free to play on some kind of grid or to not play on that grid, but we still move together.

Nick Dunston: We’ve always been so comfortable playing together from a rhythmic standpoint, so musical freedom is a given at this point. For me, I get to think a lot of orchestration, in the sense that we’re trying to give a lot of attention to our broad range of timbres—it’s almost as if we’re thinking very texturally on top of our intersecting rhythmic concept.

TJG: Does the textural quality of the music make the time harder to keep?

TW: There’s such a strong connection when you’re in the music, it’s oddly clear that you don’t have to think about it.

CP: I think the level of trust is very high, and that frees us to explore less common sounds on our instruments—to make a very orchestral sound or some other sound outside of classic jazz piano trio. That’s a product of the time we spend together—it frees us to try these new things.

TJG: Does this style of playing lead to certain roles emerging amongst yourselves? Connor, based on what I’ve listened to, it sounds like you play a heavily textural role in the group.

CP: Textural playing is something I’m very into—I think the way I relate to the drums is very textural and more broadly compositional than “drum” stuff. My goal is not to be playing drum-specific information. Obviously that’s what I studied for most of my life—trying to express the jazz drumming feel as an art form. But my interests very much lie in furthering that—getting beyond simply knowing it and referencing it.

Tyshawn Sorey is a huge inspiration in terms of composition and drumming, mostly because each time I hear him it sounds like a whole percussion section. It almost sounds orchestra, compositional, the way he improvises. I’m never thinking, “That’s so amazing, what he’s playing on the drums,” which of course it is. When it washes over me I’m thinking “This is composition.  He’s transcended the drums.” He has all of the knowledge and the history, and he’s just going past all of it.

Elvin Jones is also great example of someone who shattered our expectations of the drums. He took it so much further than people thought it could go. It’s so rhythmic, it’s so textural—the arcs are huge. The phrases are so long. But the history of the drums and the language are still so strong. It really is a beautiful duality. I grew up playing percussion, so I very much come to the drums from that makeup. I thought I would be an orchestral percussionist for a long time, but then I picked up the drums—that’s my passion now and I feel very connected to it. I’m certainly freed by Nick and Theo also. The way Nick relates to the music very much allows me to play this way.


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.