Roscoe Mitchell

Solo 3

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This is not Roscoe Mitchell's third solo album, far from it. The "3" in the title refers to the fact that it is a three-CD set and that Mitchell has designed each disc to stand on its own. So, in fact, Solo 3 is a set of three solo albums. Mitchell explains in the liner notes: "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." Disc one, titled "Tech Ritter and the Megabytes," is the most varied and interesting of the set. Released by itself, it would have a claim as Mitchell's best solo effort. The saxophonist plays all kinds of instruments, from B-flat bass sax to sopranino sax and even a short number at the percussion cage. Two tracks are multi-part compositions ("The Little Big Horn 2," a development on an improvisation dating back to the '70s, is a highlight), but this CD is mostly defined by the two 20-minute improvisations simply titled "November 18, 2000" and "November 17, 2000." "18" is particularly brilliant: Mitchell explores many aspects of the instrument, from circular breathing to space-filled attacks, focusing on short music cells before taking flight, landing on new territory, and focusing on different cells. This CD offers a compelling balance between composition and improvisation, long and short, abstract and melodic. The second disc, titled "Solar Flares," is entirely devoted to the alto saxophone. Here, Mitchell's improvisations follow a jazzier path. The music is warmer, more reflective, and easier to get into. The disc is dominated by Mitchell's rich sound and acrobatic articulation. Tracks remain mostly within the four- to seven-minute range, with only "The Great Red Spot" stretching to ten minutes. The opening "Nemus," the very short but so graceful "Icy Pearls," and the vehement "The Forgotten Players of the Solar System" are all highlights. The third disc, titled "The Percussion Cage and Music on the Go," is something else entirely. It contains 21 very short tracks, nothing over five minutes. They are for the most part percussion solos, with a handful of sopranino sax pieces interpolated in the middle. Mitchell's "percussion cage" is a four-sided rack of miscellaneous junk pieces, toys, and "traditional" percussion instruments. Not rhythmical, but not quite textural either, his approach focuses on soft sounds and delicate combinations of hits and rings. The music has its moments, but it pales in comparison to what has been exhibited on the first two discs.

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