Calvin, best known for his work with Ray Charles and Aahmad Jamal, returns with his first solo album in seven years. On 'Electric Keys' Calvin adeptly navigates straight ahead, Funk, and Blues, all the while maintaining the quintessential Calvin touch for which he is well-respected. Soul jazz is alive and well. With a sound that updates Wes Montgomery‘s fluid lines and combines that style with a head-nodding groove that will be familiar to fans of boogaloo revivalists such as The New Mastersounds and Soulive, Keys is in fact the real deal. Having cut his teeth as an able sideman to the likes of Ahmad Jamal and Jimmy Smith, Keys’ career releasing albums under his own name only began in earnest relatively recently; though 1997’s Standard Keys was his fifth album, the previous four were released across a span of some sixteen years.
Calvin Richardson made a small impression as part of the short-lived mid-'90s urban group Undercover, whose smooth contemporary soul showed the influence of Jodeci, childhood friends of Richardson. So, it shouldn't come as a great surprise that Country Boy, his 1999 solo debut, also recalls Jodeci (it even features K-Ci on the opening track, "I'll Take Her"). To Richardson's credit, he does show signs of developing his own vocal style, even if the music either is too close to Jodeci for comfort, or a little too generic. That said, there are several very strong songs – inlcuding the single "True Love," which features Chico DeBarge, and the Monifah duet "Close My Eyes" – that keep Country Boy enjoyable, even when it sounds a little samey.
This date followed Calvin Keys' first, Shawn Neeq, by about two years. Hazy, psychedelic, post-bop is the order of the day here as well, but as most soul-jazz collectors will tell you, there's always a chance for some monster funk on a Black Jazz record so, as predictable as these releases may be on the surface, you never really know until you hear them. In this case, the bomb drops at the beginning of Side Two with "Aunt Lovely." While probably a little too 'out there' for most dance floors, "Aunt Lovely" begins like some of the best funky Grant Green of the era. As the track progresses, though, it gets more than a little hectic – especially during Charles Owens' Pharoah Sanders-esque soprano solo. Kirk Lightsey's overdriven and distorted electric piano only serves to add to this tension later.