Whereas the earlier Black Jazz album Shawn Neeq had its share of riff-based funk, Keys’s second outing Proceed with Caution! sticks close to straight-ahead jazz verities with the thirtysomething guitarist in the studio with seven similarly young, on-the-rise musicians including Charles Owens (saxophones, flute), Oscar Brashear (trumpet), Al Hall, Jr. (trombone), Kirk Lightsey (electric piano), Henry Franklin (bass), and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler (drums).
Keys can really play the guitar, easefully and intelligently with unfaked feeling. The man rivets our attention at all times. “Proceed with Caution,” like the other tracks, is an original composition, is a veritable feast of organized craftmanship, with a dreamy, chord-based Wes Montgomery mode at the song’s start and finish bracketing long passages of fast, driving licks originating in bebop. Rendering flute and electric piano solos almost superfluous, Keys conjures up musical drama that invites multiple listens. Next up, “Tradewinds” finds the Omaha native treasuring the piece’s attractive melody before embarking on creative flights that herald his certainty of purpose. A similar assurance marks his urgent playing in aptly titled “Effulgence,” which also benefits from trombone, electric piano, and soprano saxophone solos. Startlingly, about a minute into this song, emanated revelations beginning channeling through his fast fingers on the strings; Something similar can be heard from transcendentalist Carlos Santana in parts of his Welcome and Love Devotion Surrender albums, both released around the same time as Proceed with Caution!.