Calvin Keys: Vertical Clearance

Calvin Keys

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.”

David R. Adler

David R. Adler writes about jazz and assorted topics. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, NPR Music,, The Philadelphia InquirerThe Village Voice, DownBeat, Time Out New York, and many other publications. From 2010-2017 he taught jazz history at the Aaron Copland School of Music (Queens College-CUNY). In summer 2017, after 30 years in New York (apart from two in Philadelphia), David relocated with his family to Athens, Georgia. There he continues to write about music and perform solo as a guitarist/vocalist.