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Harry Pickens: Live at the Stem Concert Hall

During the 1980s when he was part of New York’s prime time, freelancing with legends such as Johnny Griffin and Milt Jackson, pianist Harry Pickens was one of jazzdom’s brightest rising stars. In 1987, sensing a “deep need for personal and professional renewal,” Pickens made a quiet exit from the Apple in order, as explains in the notes, to explore other interests. Music, thank goodness, was always a vital part of that search.

Here, in an exquisite solo date, his first such venture, Pickens proves that his career’s “grand pause” has paid rich and varied dividends. Indeed, there’s an intensity, especially in tracks like “Un Poco Loco,” that’s riveting. There’s also a plumbing of the soul, and in his warmly penned annotations, words of appreciation which help transport us more deeply into the music. “Blackberry Winter,” by Loonis McGlohen and Alec Wilder, takes on added resonance when we learn that Loonis was an early source of encouragement. Every track, whether “Maiden Voyage,” “Giant Steps,” or “Body and Soul,” is a treasure. For me, Pickens’s daring slow-motion take of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” is the understated show-stopper. Harry, welcome back!

Originally Published