The music of Charles Mingus is unique in the history of jazz. What makes it unique is also the reason I can’t recommend the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s tribute album, Don’t be afraid.... the music of Charles Mingus."
The LCJO plays clean, near perfect ensembles, with solos that adhere strictly to the compositions’ chord progressions. And therein lies the problem - Mingus’ music was not meant to be played picture-perfectly.
At his best, Mingus threw "correctness" to the wind, instead relying on emotion and spirit to get his point across. The LCJO, under the overly strict baton of Wynton Marsalis, plays this music as if each rhythmic pattern were sacred; not letting any instrument stray from the rank-and-file perfection that Marsalis brings to everything he plays. At times, this approach can give music that extra "zip" it needs to succeed, but not in the case of Charles Mingus’ music.
To be sure, the solos as played by these musicians are constructed well, and ensemble passages come out sounding as tight as anything either Dorsey band ever played. Unfortunately, they’re about as soulful.
Mingus’ best performances always sounded like they were about to fall apart, only to stay together just enough to convey his message. One just can’t imagine Mingus saying, "Let’s try it one more time. I think we can do it cleaner."
Every take on Don’t be afraid.... the music of Charles Mingus, sounds as if it were chosen for its perfection of execution, not its fire or verve. The solos and ensembles are fine, but spirit is a no-show. Go with Mingus’ own albums, which are readily available, instead.