It's about damn time we heard again from Calvin Keys. As far as I can discern, his last disc emerged in 2006 (Hand Made Portrait), and I've always regarded the guy as what John Tropea, Eric Gale, Phil Upchurch, Joe Beck, and others of the ilk should've been but weren't, even as cool as those cats were. Electric Keys transports us back to the time just after the Genius Era (Miles, Duke, Monk, Mingus, Kirk, etc.) and right about when disco was digging its claws in. That whole period's sound was so unique and saw such an array of interesting experimentation often only now coming into acceptance, but Keys' gift has forever been that he understands the mellow side of fusion without looking at the mercantiles. That's why I dig Passport, Joachim Kuhn, and all the gents and ensembles who worked just enough outside both the mainstream and the progressives to accommodate both.
And to Keys, the sound is everything. Catch Backyard to understand that, even though the entire CD is shot through with the same kind of intelligence. Sure, Calvin's guitar work is centermost, but it ain't by much, and the ostinato of the horns, the burbling bass, and the martial drumwork all blend perfectly for a vibe even now rare, the sort of thing that would have been contemporaneous with Brand X's Unorthodox Behavior. Be careful, though: I'm NOT comparing Keys to John Goodsall, not at all, you'd have to go to DiMeola for that (and C.K. does go crazy in the next song, Electric Keys, a killer rave-up); what I'm connoting is the set and tone of the composition. Keys and his band could've appeared at the Whiskey A Go Go in the 70s and mowed the crowd down. How do I know? Me and my pards practically lived at The Whiskey and would've turned ourselves inside out over this stuff.
Hiram Bullock got close to some of this material in his solo CDs, the instrumental cuts, but Keys maintains a prime profile for the entire 50 minutes, and those horns? Man, niiiiice! Not over the top, not recessed, instead confident, cool, and composed but insistent when need be. Great goddamned charts. I've never understood the public's obsession with Wah-Wah Watson, even when Zappa went gaga over him, and Keys demonstrates what all the cats of that era weren't quite getting right in every track here. That's why Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, and a bevy of estimables (he was even on Bill Cosby's Badfoot Bill & The Bunions Marching Band!) gave him the vigorous nod for concert and recording work for decades.
And check out the review for Wide Hive Players Turnstyle as well (here), as it's being released at the same time and features everyone Keys' band but in a markedly different mode, far moodier, much more lo-key, but still fusion and oh-so-good.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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