Back in the '50s and '60s, it wasn't uncommon for straight-ahead jazz artists to record albums containing nothing but ballads -- a practice that A&R people encouraged because they realized that romantic mood music had a lot of commercial appeal. But regrettably, such sessions aren't as prevalent as they once were. Many straight-ahead jazz artists are reluctant to record ballad-oriented projects -- they dislike the idea of going an entire album without showing listeners how hard and fast they can swing. Although Ballads was recorded in 1999 and 2000, it is a throwback to the type of smoky, dusky mood albums that everyone from John Coltrane to Coleman Hawkins to Stan Getz provided in the '50s and '60s. Richmond doesn't try to reinvent the wheel on this tastefully relaxed CD, which finds the Los Angeles saxophonist (who is heard on both alto and soprano) leading an octet that includes, among others, Bill Perkins on baritone sax, Reggie Thomas on piano, and Clay Jenkins on trumpet. Many of the standards that Richmond picks have been done to death over the years; anyone who is seriously into jazz and traditional, pre-rock pop has heard "Darn That Dream," "Lazy Afternoon," and Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" countless times. But to his credit, Richmond doesn't limit himself to overdone warhorses -- he also pleasantly surprises listeners by unearthing some songs that haven't been done to death, including Steve Allen's "Misty Rainbow" and Cy Coleman's "I'm Gonna Laugh You Right out of My Life." And whether a particular song has been overexposed or underexposed, Richmond plays beautifully throughout the album. Ballads reminds listeners that embracing romantic mood music is nothing to be ashamed of -- and that such albums still have their place in straight-ahead acoustic jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson