Some of Bill Evans' best-known albums are solo piano recordings. He won Grammy Awards for two of them: Conversations with Myself (1963) and Alone (1968). Yet the pianist never enjoyed recording by himself. Producers who worked with him over the years attributed Evans' solo-phobia to discomfort over being too emotionally exposed. You also get the sense that Evans went into these dates fully expecting to be less than satisfied with the playback tape. For Evans, the bass and drums were essential. They provided protective cover, creative fuel, and an opportunity to catch his intellectual breath during extended solos. They also provided him with an audience of peers.
From his earliest solo recordings on New Jazz Conceptions in 1956 to his last-known solitary tracks with Marian McPartland in 1978 on her Piano Jazz show for NPR, Evans was a different player sans bass and drums. The spring in his musical attack was slightly subdued and his ideas could be oppressively pensive and overcooked. To make up for the missing rhythm section, Evans certainly could create enormous drama with pedal tones and key changes, keep perfect time with left-hand bass lines, and replace cymbal splashes with sparkling right-hand treble lines. But ultimately what you heard was an artist who wasn't truly comfortable in his own skin or clear on what he wanted to say.
"As much as Bill enjoyed playing alone at home, and although by  he regularly included a solo section in his concert program, he found recording in this context very difficult. It was probably the only area he felt insecure about musically, and the fact that he'd gotten a Grammy for Alone didn't seem to help."
I've always had mixed feelings about Evans' solo recordings. When isolated from a rhythm section, Evans' playing grew gloomy and humorless. Light, breezy songs would be turned into heavy lectures. As Evans knew only too well, the bass and drums weren't novelty instruments. They were there to keep time and provide acoustic contrast. Without the wisp of brushes or throb of an upright bass, Evans' thickening agents invariably would creep in and weigh down pretty songs. For example, on Alone, the opener Here's That Rainy Day is taken painfully slow. It's just a rainy day, not the Johnstown Flood. A Time for Love is taken at virtually the same pace. The same goes for Midnight Mood and Never Let Me Go. Only with On a Clear Day and All the Things Your Are does Evans bring sunny life to the date. In fact, many of his solo outings over the years have suffered the same fate.
With one exception: Alone (Again). Recorded on December 16, 17 and 18, 1975, the album remains the very finest example of Evans solo efforts. Surprisingly, it's rarely cited these days or even played. The largely forgotten album featured Dave Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way and four show tunes: The Touch of Your Lips, Make Someone Happy, What Kind of Fool Am I and People. Evans' executions are spirited and his solos snap and evolve. They undulate and build, and we hear Evans enthusiastically turn pop classics into love letters. Such is the case with What Kind of Fool Am I and the album's magnum opus, People, which may be one of Evans' finest recordings of the 1970s. At times Evans' attack is so energetic and passionate on this album that you think two pianists are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder playing the same instrument.
As fabulous as Alone (Again) is, the album has always been woefully incomplete. In addition to the songs mentioned above, Evans recorded three others during the session in 1975: All of You, Since We Met and a medley of But Not for Me, Isn't It Romantic and The Opener, an original. These tracks were tossed onto a posthumously released 1982 album called Eloquence.
Hopefully the Concord Music Group, which now owns the Fantasy catalog, will resolve this by re-issuing all of the material re-mastered, perhaps as Alone (Again): The Complete Sessions. Eloquence always has been something of a synthetic album, patching together stray Evans tracks with little logic or lyrical cohesion. By reissuing Alone (Again) with all of its tracks intact, Concord would show definitively that Evans was indeed capable of a decisive and iconic solo album.
Until then, you can download it at iTunes or Amazon, or buy it here. As you'll hear, Evans never sounded so alone—or as brilliant.