With sideman credits including Ray Charles and Ahmad Jamal, Calvin Keys of the Bay Area makes a strong showing on Vertical Clearance, his second release for the eclectic Wide Hive label. It’s an enigmatic mix of old- and new-school sounds, produced by Gregory Howe of the postfusion collective Variable Unit. The majority of the cuts have multiple composer credits, suggesting a free-flowing, collaborative aesthetic. Keys’ unadorned soul-jazz guitar glides through an array of sonic environments, with funk, acid-jazz and DJ-culture influences and an extensive roster of players—including saxophonist Sonny Fortune, trombonist Phil Ranelin and drummer Babatunde Lea, to name a few.
“Mrkgy” kicks off the session with Latin flavor, but the mood veers toward beat-oriented abstraction with “Spreading Spirit” and “Unresolved Daydream.” The only outbreak of swing occurs on “Proceed With Caution ’06,” one of two Keys-authored cuts. Other highlights include Headnodic’s programming on “Secaucus S. Rutherford,” Roger Glenn’s vibes on the title track and Fortune’s alto atmospherics on the off-kilter “Seven and Sonny Straight Up.” Nothing, however, beats the locked-down groove of “Drunk Monk.”