The Calhoun referred to on the cover of Native Lands is Will Calhoun, best known as a drummer with the mega-selling, genre-busting but hard rock-oriented Living Colour. For some, being part of a critically and commercially successful group would mean an opportunity to live the high life. But for Calhoun it's provided the means to travel the world, studying the music of disparate cultures. And just like Living Colour's flamboyant guitarist, Vernon Reid, some would associate Calhoun with rockbut the truth is that he's always had a finger on the pulse of the jazz community.
The visibility of Living Colour has also given Calhoun a certain cachet, resulting in collaborations with jazz artists like Jack DeJohnette, Marcus Miller, and Wayne Shorter. He's even released a relatively straight-ahead jazz disc, 2000's Live at the Blue Note. But even that's not the whole story. He's collaborated with hip-hop artist Mos Def and continues to explore the meeting point of technology and tradition on projects with bassist Doug Wimbush, including Jungle Funk, their trio with vocalist/percussionist Vinx.
Native Lands is the first recording to commingle so many of Calhoun's musical concerns. Sure, some tracks lean a little more heavily one way or another, but despite its inherent eclecticism, the album hangs together as narrative whole. The acoustic quintet on Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue featuring saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, trumpeter Wallace Roney, bassist Buster Williams, and pianist Orrin Evansmay be as pure "jazz as it gets, but even so Calhoun's kit work weighs more heavily towards the African side of the equation than Elvin Jones ever did playing it with John Coltrane.
Despite immediately shifting gears into the funk and fusion-based "Pyramids," featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks in flat-out Hendrix mode, a general continuity of personnel ties the first half of Native Lands together. Saunders' edgily lyrical solo on the multitracked chill piece "Naked is a standout, while Roney joins him on a reading of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti that blends ambient electronica with looser improvisational flair. Calhoun's udu drum may give "Umoja an ethnic vibe, but Saunders, Roney, Williams, and Evans suggest a contemporary jazz sensibility. Together they bring together seemingly dissimilar ideas and make them speak with a single voice.
The second half of the disc is even more catholic, from the electronica of "Emanation to the innocent folksiness of "She, with Calhoun on acoustic guitar and pandero. Calhoun's cover of Elvin Jones' "Two Card Molly, featuring saxophonist Antoine Roney and bassist John Benitez, swings hard but is quickly replaced by the pan-culturalism of "Push, Calhoun's duet with guitarist Stanley Jordan that brings together everything from drum programming and loops to Indonesian flute.
The CD comes bundled with a DVD containing informative interview footage with Calhoun and music videos based around select CD tracks and additional material. Proof that living in a diversity of musical worlds can create its own focus, Native Lands is an intriguing album by Calhounan eternal student who clearly views all music as world music.
Track Listing: Afro Blue; Pyramids; Naked; Nefertiti; Ancient One First Born; Tateich; Umoja; Emanation; She; Three Card Molly; Push; Dorita; East; Native Lands; Echoes of Elvin.
Personnel: Will Calhoun: drums, drum programming, loops, bass, keyboards, sonic textured
ambience, acoustic flange drums, Nigerian udu drums, piano, acoustic guitar, pandero,
Indonesian flute, ambient sonics, Native American double bell flute, electronic percussion;
Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone (1, 2, 3, 4, 7); Buster Williams: acoustic bass (1, 7);
Wallace Roney: trumpet (1, 2, 4, 6, 7); Orrin Evans: piano (1, 4, 7), electric piano (12);
Kevin Eubanks: guitar and loops (2); Antoine Roney: soprano saxophone (2, 10); John
Benitez: bass (4, 10, 12); Tateich Calhoun: drums (5); Marcus Miller: bass (6); Cheikh
Tdiane Seck: strings (7); Stanley Jordan: guitar (11); Gregg Maret: harmonica (12); Mos Def:
piano (13); Nana Vasconcelos: shakers, glass udu drum, hand drums, bells, voice and
indigenous percussion (14).