In conversation, G. Calvin Weston is a quiet guy. The Philly native — raised at 17th and Cumberland, currently at 19th and Diamond — says what he has to and moves on. (Quite literally in this case: He took off for a quick tour of Europe right after this interview.)
As always, he’s content to let his drumming, composing and occasional trumpet playing do the talking for him. This autumn he’s particularly chatty, releasing three radically different albums at once: the funky Play Out Loud, the spacey Cosmic Miles and the raucous Of Alien Feelings. That last one’s a heavy hitter, co-composed by guitarist/bassist Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried and featuring Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner, organist John Medeski and six-stringers Vernon Reid and Upper Darby’s own Todd Rundgren.
Musically, Weston is all over the place, and that’s how he likes it. His debut, 1989’s noisily soulful Dance Romance, featured avant-classicists James Blood Ulmer and Jamaaladeen Tacuma. From there came seven more eclectic albums and gigs with Ulmer, Ornette Coleman and his Prime Time ensemble, the Lounge Lizards, Medeski Martin & Wood, Marc Ribot, James Carter and even trip-hop god Tricky.
“We always had a lot of music in my house,” says Weston. He remembers his mom and dad dancing to the oldies. He’d play along with Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on a small kit his pop bought for him. “I always heard the drums on those songs. They stood out. And when I picked up the sticks it was all right there. That’s all there was. I had it going on — it was a natural thing for me. Something from the gods.”
That’s what legends like Coleman, Ribot and Carter wanted from him. “It’s the way I hear sound, the way I feel rhythm,” says Weston. “I never go into the making of my music or anyone else’s with any expectations. My music in particular — it is what it is.”
The songs on his albums, the newest three in particular, are mostly one-take-wonders. “It’s all improvisation. I feel my way through it,” he explains.
For the thundering Play Out Loud, Weston phoned up his old friend Medeski to put together a hit-it-and-quit-it session. “We just hooked up and played,” says Weston, who sang on the album as well.
Though he picks up his trumpet and blares throughout Cosmic Miles, it’s not a tribute to Mr. Davis. That one’s dedicated to Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. “Why I play the trumpet, period, is because of those two,” says Weston, who recorded his beats on drum pads while touring with his trio in Italy.
Of Alien Feelings is a different animal altogether. No less improvisational than any of his albums, this prog-rocky effort found Weston recording beats onto a mini-disc recorder at his North Philly home, then sending them off to Chicago instrumentalist Karl Seigfried, who took it from there.
“I was just supposed to play electric bass on one tune but ended up recording an orchestra of jazz, rock and metal guitars,” says Seigfried. “Calvin liked what I did on the track, got rid of the rest of the band, and asked me to play guitar and bass on everything.”
Seigfried listened to Weston’s drum parts and heard greater musical elements: verses, choruses and bridges. “Inside of just drum parts, I hear melodies, accompaniments and bass lines,” says Seigfried. When he felt Weston going in a jazzy direction, he played upright bass and softer licks. When the drummer veered into something hard and rocking, Seigfried played electric bass and “overdriven” guitar.
“Calvin is a compositional drummer,” says Seigfried. “Some drummers just play beats; Calvin plays music.”
For his part, Weston calls himself a man of action, at least when it comes to playing as opposed to chatting: “Music speaks when you don’t have words to say.”