Drummer Will Calhoun Pays Tribute to a
Profound Influence on Celebrating Elvin Jones
Available August 19 on Motéma Music
Album Features Christian McBride,
Antoine Roney, Keyon Harrold, and Special Guests
Jan Hammer and Doudou N’Diaye Rose
Although he’s best known as the hard-driving, groove-oriented drummer for the pioneering rock group Living Colour, Will Calhoun has played in a staggering variety of styles and traditions over the course of his eclectic career. Straight-ahead jazz, fusion, traditional African percussion, funk, hip-hop, and of course hard rock — Calhoun has explored them all, and he traces the roots of all of them to one man: legendary drummer Elvin Jones.
On his second album for Motéma Music, Celebrating Elvin Jones (due out August 19), Calhoun pays tribute to his earliest and most profound influence with a stellar band of musicians, all of whom were impacted by Jones through their personal growth as a musician or their past working with him directly: bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Antoine Roney, pianist/keyboardist Carlos McKinney, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold. The great keyboardist Jan Hammer, a member of Jones’ trio for On the Mountain (1975), joins the band for a reprise of that album’s Gene Perla-penned track “Destiny;” and Senegalese percussionist Doudou N’Diaye Rose joins with a group of drummers for the traditional Japanese folk song “Doll of the Bride.”
“Elvin connected my worlds,” Calhoun says. “Although I saw him playing jazz, I felt rock and roll, I felt fusion, I felt African music. It sounds electric, it sounds acoustic, it sounds very African, it sounds very Latin, there are all these elements in there.”
Calhoun first became acquainted with Jones’ playing as a young child hearing the drummer’s recordings with the classic John Coltrane Quartet — a band that he now considers part of a Holy Trinity with the second great Miles Davis Quintet and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the age of 14, Calhoun witnessed Elvin playing for the first time at the Village Vanguard and had the opportunity to meet and speak with the drum legend on various occasions throughout the years prior to Jones’ passing in 2004.
“Listening to Coltrane’s band in my youth reminded me of some kind of an incredible explosion,” Calhoun says. “The music was beyond jazz. There were a few records in those days where you put the needle down and you didn’t make it back to the couch. The Coltrane records were some of those albums where I just stood there staring at the needle and listening, and Elvin was driving that train — no pun intended — by shoving a lot of coals into the fire. He had a profound effect on me.”
Jones also had a profound effect on all of the members of the band that Calhoun assembled for the occasion. McBride only played with the drummer on a few special occasions, including saxophonist Javon Jackson’s debut album, Me and Mr. Jones. Both Roney and McKinney can boast of more extensive experience under Jones’ leadership, with both appearing on the drummer’s final release, The Truth: Heard Live at the Half Note. While Harrold did not have the opportunity to ever perform with Jones, the drummer has long influenced him. Calhoun drew on all of their experiences as he developed the music for Celebrating Elvin Jones.
“Hearing those guys telling stories about when they were on the road with Elvin was helpful,” he says. “I chose according to what music would best represent my vision. I also wanted to put my own vibe into the music.”
“Elvin and Doudou reminded me of each other,” he says. “They have a lot in common in how they speak about rhythm and music in a very respectful, classy, educated and freeform way. I don’t know if they ever met, but I wanted to recognize the energy and spiritual camaraderie between those two gentlemen.”
In recording Jones’ music, Calhoun didn’t want to imitate the drummer, but simply — as is only appropriate for such a restlessly inventive and forward-thinking artist — to absorb his influence and explore his music in a uniquely personal and progressive style. “I wasn’t trying to nail Elvin’s playing or sound,” he explains. “I love Elvin and all of his contributions. He’s inspired me in so many ways, even playing with Living Colour, so this piece, to me, is celebratory. It’s a thank you and a respectful homage to this wonderful musician.”
Will Calhoun · Celebrating Elvin Jones
Motéma Music · Release Date: August 19, 2016
Best known for his role in the fierce and politically incisive rock band Living Colour, Will Calhoun is a drummer whose razor-sharp technique and elastic rhythmic feel defy the bounds of genre. His astounding discography reads like a catchall bin at the record store, with sideman credits for artists as diverse as Herb Alpert and Run-DMC. But for a drummer of such immeasurable rhythmic variation, he can also lay down an undeniably gut-wrenching swing beat. That’s a characteristic he shares with one of his heroes, Elvin Jones, to whom this album is dedicated. Celebrating Elvin Jones is an inspired project, vibrant and emotionally honest, but its greatest success may be that it brings Calhoun’s boundless energy to lesser-known gems of the Jones songbook. Tunes like “EJ Blues,” with its explosive drum fills, “Saramastah,” with its sensitive brushwork, and “Whew,” with its trenchant swing, help paint a portrait of Jones through suggestion and homage, rather than emulation. That’s an artful approach, and Calhoun is wise to have followed it. He’s joined here by a commanding ensemble with bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Antoine Roney, keyboardist Carlos McKinney and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, all of whom bring depth and dimension to the punchy arrangements. The group is augmented on several tracks by guest stars with connections to Jones’ musical legacy. Czech keyboardist Jan Hammer, a member of Jones’ trio for On The Mountain (1975), joins the band for a propulsive take on “Destiny,” and Senegalese percussionist Doudou N’Diaye Rose, a stylistic ancestor to Jones who died in August 2015, contributes a masterful solo on “Doll Of The Bride.”
1. EJ Blues
7. Doll of the Bride (feat. Doudou N'Diaye Rose)
8. Destiny (feat. Jan Hammer)
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