Elina Duni, the band’s namesake, started playing piano and singing when she was five. At 17 she learned the blues and picked up jazz naturally from there, eventually studying jazz in Switzerland at the University of Bern.
At Bern, she met Collin Vallon, who plays piano in the quartet. Vallon was the one who originally proposed combining jazz with Albanian folk music.
“He said ‘Why don’t we play Albanian folk songs and transform them, play them in a jazz way,’ ” Elina Duni said. “To improvise with them and play them in a free way.”
Though Duni lived in Albania until she was 10, she wasn’t familiar with the country’s traditional folk music until she met Vallon. Folk music was politicized by the Albanian communist state and widely disliked for that reason.
But after listening to some old cassettes, Duni quickly developed a connection to the music, which in turn developed her own sound as a jazz performer.