Sudden music! All alone, unprotected, Roscoe Mitchell confronts Silence: the void, the vast unknown. One and a half of the 38 pieces in this collection are composed. Two more are improvisations that begin with at least some conditions. The other 34 and a half pieces are completely improvised-Mitchell simply picks up a horn or mallets and begins playing. He's armed only with his wide-ranging imagination, his instruments, his virtuosity, and his experience-for what more does he need? Proof of his self-sufficiency is that each improvisation is a distinctive, flowing work that has its own meaning, its own unique story to tell. "I started working on one CD," he says, "but I started getting more and more material, and I thought that at this point in my career, one solo CD is not enough. I'd better put out three CDs, because time is going on by."
Mitchell has been creating a cappella solos for around four decades now. He's one of the Chicagoans who virtually invented the unaccompanied horn solo in free jazz: "You have to be responsible for all the music-I thought it was part of what I had to learn. To be a good improviser you have to improvise by yourself and also with an ensemble. It's a good way to get where you're not following people - inexperienced improvisers will definitely start following the first strong idea that comes along." After a few pioneers such as Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre, Mitchell and some of his AACM colleagues (saxophonists Joseph Jarman, Anthony Braxton, violinist Leroy Jenkins, trumpeters Lester Bowie, Wadada Leo Smith, how many others?) went on to make a formidable medium of unaccompanied soloing. Along with the aesthetic rewards, there was another reason for this new medium's growth, in America and around the world, during the 1970s economic recession: Concert presenters who couldn't afford to hire a group could sometimes afford to hire a single artist.
It's not like the bygone times when artists spent their lives playing, say, Dixieland or bebop. Today's artists have to continually reinvent themselves. Through all of Mitchell's musical changes, he has remained fiercely, insistently original. The early years of his Art Ensemble and (from 1969) the Art Ensemble of Chicago were a time of discovery. As his scope steadily expanded-improviser, composer, with many kinds of large and small ensembles, as well as Art Ensemble member and lonesome soloist-he not only made more discoveries, he made remarkable developments of his rediscoveries. As he did with "Little Big Horn 2," he may very well go on to develop delightful new works from some of the wonderfully rewarding improvisations of Solo 3.