"Life In This World is a spiritual title," Calhoun says, "which to me just means the sonic world of my experiences. It's Will Calhoun in the sense of what influences me and what inspires me, but aimed more towards a jazz audience."
Jazz was the first music that Calhoun heard while growing up - "Before rock, before hip-hop, before funk," he recalls. "In my family, African-American history was very important, whether it was Muhammad Ali or Jim Brown, Coltrane, Miles, Duke Ellington - It wasn't just listening to the music in my house, the life styles of these men and other women were laid down as history lessons on the music and culture."
Living in the Bronx, however, it wasn't long before Calhoun was exposed to myriad styles and cultures, from rock and funk to the burgeoning style of hip-hop. It actually came as a shock to the young drummer when he discovered that for most people genres were defined by hard boundaries - a lesson he learned first at Berklee College of Music and later while on the road with Living Colour.
That band's success afforded Calhoun the opportunity to begin traveling to Africa in the mid-1990s for stays that could last as long as six or eight months at a time. He's continued those treks for nearly twenty years, studying mainly in Mali but also in Morocco and Senegal. "I felt like I didn't know the history of my instrument," Calhoun says. "I began to ask myself what's the narrative of the rhythms and patterns we play in the U.S. and Europe? I went over there and felt out of place. It was a culture shock in the best way. Little children would walk by and clap out the patterns to show me what I was doing wrong."
In 2005, Calhoun created Native Lands, a multi-media fusion of jazz and world music with ambient electronica and another passion, photography. Life In This World is Calhoun's most jazz-oriented recording since his GRAMMY® nominated 2000 release, Live at the Blue Note, but those diverse interests remain evident.
Jazz aficionados will recognize Calhoun's deft swing on his arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," inspired by the Miles Davis/Gil Evans recording of the familiar standard, or the explosive take on "Spectrum," originally performed by one of Calhoun's idols, Tony Williams. Wayne Shorter's "Etcetera" is one of two tracks on the album featuring bass legend Ron Carter, renowned as a member of Miles Davis' landmark second quintet. "Ron is the King," Calhoun raves. "He was always a strong supporter of Living Colour. He graciously offered to work with me, and it was shocking and intimidating at first, however while listening to play backs during the session, Ron gave me an amazing compliment, and Spiritual approval."
But his deft ability to blend rhythmic traditions becomes clear on Thelonious Monk's "Evidence," which finds a stunning balance between the composer's angular bop eccentricities and the rhythmic traditions which Calhoun encountered during his extensive travels in Mali; or on John Coltrane's classic "Naima," where Calhoun steps away from his drum set to weave enticing Brazilian rhythms on cajon and water drum, inspired by an impromptu encounter with a Senegalese musician who sang him the melody.
"Afrique Kan'e" draws even more heavily on Calhoun's travels, featuring the drummer and trumpet great Wallace Roney performing with master Malian musicians Cheick Tidiane Seck (piano), Alioune Wade (bass), and Brehima Diakite (kamelan n'goni). The group assembled in a Paris studio during a day off from touring with Malian singer Oumou Sangaré. "Abu Bakr II," meanwhile, finds Calhoun and company venturing into the electronic realm, with help from Living Colour and Jungle Funk bassist Doug Wimbish as well as Roney, exploring terrain pioneered by his mentor, Miles Davis, on landmark recordings like Bitches Brew and On the Corner.
Calhoun found a kindred spirit in pianist Marc Cary, who plays on most of the record and penned the lively duet "He Who Hops." Both are fervent gear-heads, obsessively collecting the latest musical and recording technologies, as well as musical omnivores. The latter also applies to Charnett Moffett, who Calhoun first met when the bassist was 16 years old and playing with Wynton Marsalis. "He was frightening," Calhoun recalls. "To this day I've never seen anyone play the acoustic bass like Charnett. During our early tour encounters we had a running joke about switching careers because I always wanted to play jazz and the success of Living Colour pulled me more into the rock field, and he was trying to get more into the rock thing."
The rock and pop influences on Calhoun's composing emerge most clearly on the album's closing tracks. "Dorita" has a tender, memorable melody that saxophonist Donald Harrison plays with the supple charms of an R&B crooner. Calhoun actually takes the microphone to sing his own lyric for "Love's Parody," a mysterious ballad he originally recorded with Dr. John. This represents a rare vocal recording for Calhoun, and hopefully a sign of more to come as he has quite a singular voice.
The brilliant sound of Life In This World was engineered by master producer Ron St. Germain, whose credits include Living Colour, Soundgarden, Whitney Houston and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but who has also recorded the likes of Betty Carter and Ornette Coleman. "Ron is a genius at capturing the sound of the instruments and getting the vibe to come across in an organic way," Calhoun says. "I've made a few recordings in my time and I'm frustrated that the same types of nuance and detail are excluded from the recording and mixing of many modern jazz records as typically goes into a pop or rock recordings. I feel the attention to production values in jazz would upgrade the music while simultaneously reaching younger audiences. However many earlier Blue Note, Columbia, and Prestige recordings still stand the test of time."
Calhoun, who like many artists have been urged by industry members to focus on one particular area, has found a happy home in the maverick Motéma imprint, (also home to Marc Cary and Charnett Moffett and now celebrating it's 10th year) because the label especially focuses on virtuosic creative music that crosses genres and international borders. Calhoun compares playing so many different styles of music to speaking several languages, stressing that "to keep a language sharp, you have to speak it with people." There's no doubt from Life In This World and his entire body of work that Calhoun is a fluent and soulful communicator in many diverse tongues.
Upcoming Will Calhoun Performances:
Will Calhoun Trio:
May 17 - 19 / The Blue Note / New York, NY
June 17 - 23 / Gnawa Festival / Essaouira, Morroco
Sept. 27 - 29 / International Percussion Festival / Opole, Poland
Will Calhoun with Living Colour:
March 13 / New Morning / Paris
March 15 / Z7 / Pratteln (Switz.)
March 18 / Lucerna Music Bar / Prague
March 19 / Atelier Babylon / Bratislava
March 20 / Huxleys Neue Welt / Berlin
March 27 / Filmore / San Francisco, CA
March 29 / Belly Up Tavern / Solana Beach, CA
March 30 / El Rey Theater / Los Angeles, CA
April 4 / Keswick Theater / Glenside, PA
April 5 / Paradise Rock Club / Boston, MA
April 6 / Irving Plaza / New York, NY
April 11 / Park West / Chicago, IL
April 12 / The Magic Bag / Ferndale, MI
April 13 / The Opera House / Toronto
Life In This World Track Listing:
1. Brother Will (Charnett Moffett) // 2. Spectrum (A. Hall) // 3. King Tut Strut (Hotep Galeta) // 4. Love For Sale (Cole Porter) // 5. Naima (John Coltrane) // 6. Evidence (Thelonious Monk) // 7. Afrique Kan'e (Cheick Tidiane Seck & Will Calhoun) // 8. He Who Hops (Marc Cary) // 9. Etcetera (Wayne Shorter) //
10. Dorita (Will Calhoun) // 11. Love's Parody (Will Calhoun)
Will Calhoun · Life In This World // Motéma Music · Release Date: May 14, 2013