In 1993, Will Calhoun, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid, and Doug Wimbish—a.k.a. the genre-bucking rock-soul-funk band Living Colour—unleashed an album that bodyslammed societal ills with gut-check lyrics and sledgehammer musicianship. The ferocious recording was called Stain—if not the best rock album of the last decade, at least one of the most important.
That said, if you follow a listen of Stain with one of the Will Calhoun Quintet’s debut album, Live at the Blue Note (Half Note), your immediate reaction—barring heart palpitations and/or a desire to go mess with The Man—would undoubtedly be that the (since disbanded) Living Colour drummer had mellowed big-time over the last seven years. My advice: Listen again.
Live at the Blue Note blends the elements of laid-back, improv jazz with “a big, open Afrocentric vibe,” the Bronx-native (and still living there) Calhoun says. “I wanted to play jazz, but...make sort of a statement.”
Amid covers of Wayne Shorter’s “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” Calhoun reveals gorgeous, gap-bridging originals such as “Dawn of the Great Eastern Sun,” a mind-bending number—played on a distorted, delayed and wah-wahed electric wave drum—that was influenced by recent trips to Morocco and the Australian outback.
While Calhoun’s percussive presence dominates both the traditional and the avant-garde numbers, the skinman nevertheless gives featured alto-sax stalwart Bobby Watson plenty of opportunities to work the room. “Bobby was the first guy, the first jazz musician to allow me to play jazz, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Calhoun says. “Bobby’s an interesting cat. He’s not that old, but he is old school. I’m glad he was a little disturbed [by what I was doing], because I knew I was going in the right direction.”
Along with working on rapper Mos Def’s next project (“The Hendrix/Dylan/Marley of rap,” Calhoun says of the young star), the drummer is also looking to tour with his newfound quintet, then maybe book a little studio time. “This is a massive side of my musical personality,” Calhoun says, adding, “This piece of music has more of my personality that any album I’ve ever worked on.”