Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux was, Beverly Sills has said, the role that took 10 years off her career, and indeed, it’s a fearsome undertaking. The very long role is composed over a slightly larger than two-octave span, and there are forte passages at both ends, both in ensembles and alone, and the sheer number of notes the character has to get out is awe-inspiring. Emotionally, too, the part is ripping: The elderly Elizabeth, in love with the Earl of Essex, who in turn loves Sara, the Duchess of Nottingham (forget real English history), is a ferocious monarch, comfortable and powerful only when ruling, and in private, a shattered woman, filled with vulnerabilities. Sills’ voice was at its pristine best in 1969, when this was recorded, before she sang it on stage. She is in absolute control of every resource she ever had: accurate roulades, brutal chest tones, full-bodied high notes, the ability to express both rage and joy, an impeccable bel canto line, stupendous breath control.
The compositions herein are performed by two of the famed Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop groups and they are considered among his best recorded works. These 1954 recordings represent the grass roots from where all the innovative forms and expressions of tomorrows jazz conceived by Mingus really began. From then on, Mingus became the most influential composer and bassist of various generations in jazz history. After its first date, he said about the improvised interplay between every instrument: I feel that it is usually impossible to attempt such delicacies with musicians who do not enjoy the unusual freedom or understand the thought of the leading instrument. Teo Macero, John LaPorta, George Barrow and Mal Waldron, of course, are just as responsible as I am for the final construction.
This amazing set compiles all existing Birdland broadcasts by the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop of 1961-62. These long unavailable broadcasts feature such important musicians as Booker Ervin, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Knepper, Pepper Adams, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles McPherson, Jaki Byard, Toshiko Akiyoshi andDannie Richmond. Among the many highlights is the drumless broadcast of May 12, 1962, which presents two bassists on Mingus’ only existing live version of “Ysabel’s Table Dance”, from Tijuana Moods. Mingus is the piano soloist on two broadcasts. This music has only been previously available on separate long out of print releases with inferior sound quality.
Charles Earland is among the most consistent of organists, with nearly every one of his recordings on that instrument (as opposed to his interlude on synthesizers) being easily recommended to soul-jazz and hard bop collectors. For this CD, Earland heads a sextet also including trumpeter Virgil Jones (long an underrated player), Bill Easley on tenor, guitarist Bobby Broom, drummer Buddy Williams and occasionally Frank Colon on conga. Other than a throw-away version of the theme from Moonlighting, the mostly basic music on this set is rewarding, with Earland infusing the tunes with plenty of grease and funk.