Harry Pickens earned a reputation as a respected sideman, teacher and speaker before recording Passionate Ballads, his first studio recording. Since he's played with a number of well-regarded musicians -- including Johnny Griffin, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Milt Jackson -- some may expect something a little more adventurous than this laid-back collection of standards, but it's nevertheless a very good record and one that gives him ample room to flaunt his talents. Essentially, Pickens is a very skilled, very knowledgeable pianist and his main talent is that he can emulate a number of famed pianists while giving a subtly original spin on their styles. That's why he makes a good sideman and that's why Passionate Ballads can initially seem a little underwhelming. However, his quiet charms reveal themselves over the course of the record, and it's possible to hear how his faithful renditions of "Misty," "The Man I Love," "The Very Thought of You" and "How Deep Is the Ocean," among others, find their own identity through his little flourishes and grace notes. That still doesn't mean that the album is a knock-out, but it is an slyly engaging collection of standards that stands as testament to Pickens' talents.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine