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Life in This World has drummer Will Calhoun returning to his jazz roots.

Music Review: Will Calhoun – Life in This World

Set for release in May, Life in This World is not Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun’s first venture onto the jazz scene, nor is it a mere flirtation. He has worked on albums with the likes of bassist Charnett Moffett, Wayne Shorter, and Jack DeJohnette. In 2000, he led the Will Calhoun Quintet in the Grammy nominated album Live at the Blue Note. Jazz is in his blood, part of his heritage. “Before rock, before hip-hop, before funk,” he explains, “in my family, African-American history was very important, whether it was Muhammed 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.” Jazz is his heritage.

And not to slight the “African” element in “African-American,” he has made it his business to travel to that continent to study the history of his instrument at its source in places like Mali, Morocco, and Senegal. “I began to ask myself what’s the narrative of the rhythms and patterns we play in the U.S. and Europe.” He put his travels to practical use in his work with Malian singer/songwriter Oumou Sangare, as well as directly in a number of tracks on this new album.

Indeed the album is an amalgam not only of jazz and African rhythms, but of almost all of his varied musical interests—funk, some electronica, and a Brazilian rhythm as well. If there isn’t a nod to Living Colour rock, it is likely to show up in some future disc.

“Brother Will,” a Moffett tune which opens the album, gives a good indication of its drum centered focus. Whether in the dynamic solo in “Spectrum,” the intricate rhythmic variations in the Monk composition, “Evidence,” or the African influences in “Afrique Kan’e,” it is the Calhoun’s percussion that takes center stage. Certainly he gets a lot of help from his friends—Moffett, pianist Marc Clary, saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Wallace Roney, bassist Ron Carter, and Living Colour cohort, Doug Wimbish.

Album highlights include an elegant version of the classic “Love for Sale” inspired, we are told, by the Miles Davis/Gil Evans recording of the tune. It just goes to show that you can’t go wrong looking to Gil Evans for inspiration. Calhoun works with the cajon and water drum for the Brazilian rythyms at work in John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and there is some powerful piano solo work from Clary, not to mention Harrison’s sax. “Abu Bakr II” is an electronic African fantasia that approaches surrealism. Calhoun’s “Dorita,” which had opened his Blue Note album, is a sweet melody, handled with simplicity by Harrison after a short intro on the bass. The album ends with a Calhoun vocal on another original, “Love’s Parody,” a song he had previously recorded with Dr. John.

Life in This World is the kind of album that will have jazz lovers hoping that Will Calhoun’s return to his roots will continue to be nurtured and flower.

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