Bill Evans: Alone (Again) LP (Fantasy, 1977)
I often listen to jazz pianist Bill Evans when I’m winding down or drifting off to sleep at night, but I didn’t own any of his music on vinyl. I’d been waiting for some to roll through the store—most of his records aren’t particularly rare—and this week it happened. When I listen digitally I reach for 1974’s Symbiosis or 1973’s Conversations with Myself and we didn’t get in either of those, but I did snag this 1977 album Alone (Again), a solo piano record in which he revisits the conceit of his well regarded 1970 LP Alone.
One thing I love in jazz is when musicians take a melody and twist it and turn it inside out, exploring how it works and remaking it into something else in real time. I suppose that’s the soul of jazz, taking an existing framework and making it your own. The classic formula is that the band starts with a main theme, then the players take turns soloing, exploring what makes the song, what it offers, and what its limits might be.
Usually in this arrangement the rhythm section holds down the main rhythm and/or chord progression while the soloists do their thing, but a solo pianist has no such luxury… all Bill Evans has is his two hands. His style is so ornate and busy that each tune’s skeleton seems to dissolve as soon as the song starts. When I’m listening to this record, I’m often unable to pull out anything I’d call a tune or a main melody. Instead, it sounds like a flurry of notes, and even though I can’t make conventional sense of those notes, it still sounds beautiful. I often see the word “complexity” thrown around when people discuss Bill Evans’ music. Paradoxically, the overwhelming complexity simplifies my listening. It’s like my brain gives up any hopes of “understanding” the music, instead sending me to a Zen headspace where I just live in the moment and enjoy the sound.