Review Summary: A barebones display of artistry.
Few pianists are better suited for the solo setting than Bill Evans. His distinctive playing, paradoxically characterized by substantial harmonic power and delicate melodic sensitivity, can command attention even in its most solitary state. To back the claim, perhaps no record in his extensive catalog is a more ideal “exhibit A” than the final album he produced for Verve Records, the technically impressive yet tonal, floating and dreamy Alone
Recorded at New York City’s Webster Hall in late 1968, this Grammy Award-winning set is Evans' first true piano solo album. The five songs, including a near 15-minute exploration of "Never Let Me Go", takes the template established by his ‘63 and ’67 Verve overdubbing sessions, Conversations with Myself
(three pianos) and Further Conversations with Myself
(two pianos), and strips it even further. No multi-tracking, no backing band, no safety nets, this is a barebones display of Evans’ artistry.
It would be somewhat misleading to say that Alone
finds Evans at his best. The quality of his playing rarely faltered, but it should be noted that the performance here is spot-on and lovely. In true Evans fashion, the music moves with thought and introspection, passing neither briskly or lethargically. Side A may be somewhat impeded by the repertoire’s lack of variety, although Evan’s interpretation of the Broadway tune "Here's That Rainy Day" and Zawinul’s "Midnight Mood," are nonetheless enjoyable. The performer’s improvisational savvy is spotlighted in the side-long, melancholic rendition of "Never Let Me Go", where Evans states the theme before spiraling into fresh territory only to return to that blue melody and begin anew.
Documented solo performances by Evans are quite limited, so this record could be counted as a blessing. Although some may miss the sidemen interplay featured on previous and subsequent recordings, this assortment of soft but intricate pieces is a prime opportunity to uninhibitedly observe his technique. It’s equally recommendable to completists and those in need of an introduction to this master of modal and post-bop jazz.