Will Calhoun
Life In This World

This record lacks meaningful musical substance. It also lacks coherence as an album statement. Pianist Marc Cary is a constant, but alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeter Wallace Roney come and go. Ensemble configurations and genres shift track-to-track. The mélange includes guest musicians from Mali, five different bassists, ethnic and electric instruments, digital devices and a vocal track.

The album is interesting, however, from two perspectives. First, it presents an unusual concept of the drummer as bandleader. Will Calhoun’s drums are so dominant in the mix that the normal ensemble balance is inverted. The drums are the primary subject, and the melody lines and improvisations of the horns and piano are the secondary accompaniment. Calhoun’s percussion instruments are beautifully recorded. His bass drum goes down deep. The concept would be more interesting if Calhoun were more into nuance and less into bashing.

The second perspective has to do with fusion. Remember fusion? People had high hopes for it, way back in the last century. Calhoun is qualified to practice fusion. He is a member of the high-profile rock band Living Colour, graduated from Berklee and grew up on bebop. The problem with fusion was that jazz and rock didn’t fuse. Calhoun solves the problem by not trying. Instead he juxtaposes them or causes them to collide. On four pieces from the jazz repertoire—“Love for Sale,” “Naima,” “Evidence” and “Etcetera”—the melody is overwhelmed by Calhoun’s alternative rhythmic agenda. Even Monk’s spiky energy is submerged in onslaughts of African/rock thunder. It’s rather fun, even if you only have to hear it once.

The explicitly pop-oriented pieces are throwaways, like “Dorita,” on which Harrison is as saccharine as smooth jazz, and “Love’s Parody,” which will hopefully be Calhoun’s last attempt to sing in public.

Originally published in June 2013

1 Comment

  • Sep 01, 2013 at 08:01AM Monique Avakian

    I hope people don't blow off giving this a listen based on this review. Everyone has a right to his/her opinion, but I have to say that this review is misleading, rather vague and overly judgmental. I have listened to Calhoun's version of "Evidence" at least 50 times already--it is so intricate and unusual. To add more complexity to an already super-complex tune—to me, this is magnetic and involving. The way the players put in the complex rhythm from Mali, and then move into and out of it fully swinging is a supreme exemplar of "playing in the pocket"! I hear each soloist pick up the "dah-DWEH-oh" Monk riff as a cool connecting thread. To me, this is very respectful of the integrity of the tune. This album is so deep, complex and rich...I don't think "fusion" is the proper term at all. I would go with something more like: "ambitious melding of traditions supremely rooted and simultaneously inventive." Here are some other reviews I've run across so far -- hope it's ok to link. I am doing this in the spirit of love and openness for musicians who are authentic, drummers who are leading, and for listeners who are adventurous. Many of us are trying to learn something about the spiritual depth of the Spheres and get into music not bound by fake socio-cultural marketing constructs:

    --Monique Avakian

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