If somebody forced me to list my favorite album-length works of jazz, I'd undoubtedly put, among other things, Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Mingus' "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" and Duke Ellington's "Far East Suite" in the lineup. I probably wouldn't put "Don't Be Afraid: The Music of Charles Mingus" from Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on the list, but I think of all three as I listen to the recent Palmetto disk.
"A Love Supreme" because Marsalis and his band reinterpreted it last year in fetching fashion, uncovering an infrequently discussed truth about Coltrane in the process: underneath those "sheets of sound" of his was a sense of swing essential to the nature of his music in my view. Likewise, I think they reveal something fundamental about the music of Mingus in "Don't Be Afraid," by dragging the Ellington inside it to the forefront. Mingus revered Duke, there was always a lot of Ellington underlying his music and, again, that element was essential to the music's nature. It's fascinating, to me anyway, to hear it brought out by as skilled a collection of jazz musicians as you'll find today, the modern equivalent, as much as we have one, of Ellington's bands. Think of it as "Duke Does Mingus."
I hear Ellington clearly in the two pieces of "Black Saint" that they do, and I hear some of Ellington's Latin-inflected pieces in "Tijuana Gift Shop," which I wish they had explored at more length, and "Los Mariachis." They let loose and have some fun with "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too," as did Mingus, while "Meditation on Integration" is the piece on which they get closest to the edginess of a Mingus band playing Mingus music.
They never get too close, however. If you want that, there's always the Mingus Big Band, which tends to play in the master's style. If you want to hear Mingus differently, try this. The music was great to begin with and, even if I prefer the original, the musicianship from the LCJO is, as always, outstanding. Enjoy it, then pick up Mingus' own big band classic "Let My Children Hear Music" and dig the contrasts, and the similarities.