Bill Evans’ Alone is the default paradigm for introspective solo piano recordings. Evans was actually in Webster Hall in New York (capacity 2,500) when he recorded it, but he sounds exceedingly lonely. Bill Anschell recorded Figments himself, after gigs, alone in his home late at night. Anschell does not sound like Evans, but the deep, rapt atmosphere of personal spiritual inquiry on Figments is one that Evans would have understood.
The opening track seems an improbable choice: “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” But any viable snatch of melody can initiate a stream of creative consciousness if it is late enough at night and a true improviser is willing (or tired enough) to let go. Cole Porter’s teasing little song, out of character as a formal pattern, is occasionally audible within the open designs that Anschell arrays on the night air.
The two best pieces are “All My Tomorrows” and “It Never Entered My Mind.” The former, a neglected masterwork by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, is, like all great love songs, a fragile testament of faith. It has never been so fragile as it is here. Anschell discovers it in bare scattered fragments, poignant in their isolation. The latter is a Rodgers and Hart song usually expressed in tension-and-release. For Anschell it becomes a long unwinding, a flowing of free association, with no set number of beats per measure yet a steady pulse.
Six of the 12 tracks are pop songs from Anschell’s youth. He blows them all up for fun, except for the Eagles’ “Desperado.” It is somewhere in a gentle rain of glistening notes, still sad but more hopeful. Figments, a project with humble origins, becomes a magical album, best experienced after midnight, when it was made.