Jimmy Greene – Beautiful Life (2014)

It’s painful, honestly, to peer into the sleeve of Jimmy Greene’s Beautiful Life CD and see the images of a smiling, angelic little girl, full of joy and promise, knowing that her young life was snuffed out in a senseless mass killing of children that recently shook a great nation. So it’s unimaginable how that reality must have impacted Greene, the father of this girl named Ana Márquez-Greene. The long-term answer to that, however, comes from the music contained in that sleeve.

Jimmy Greene is a jazz saxophonist and composer, and a gifted one at that; we knew this from the impressions his 2009 release Mission Statement had left with us. The faith and spirituality he conveyed on that album got put to the test on that fateful day at Sandy Hook Elementary, but those things about him remain intact. Beautiful Life (out on November 25, 2014 via Mack Avenue Records) is his ultimate response to the tragedy, and he summons up both his skills as a musician and his strong inner spirit to make this record. He also summons a few of his notable friends, too.

This isn’t music made with tears, but with a love that reaches beyond mortality, as Beautiful Life is less of an eulogy and more of a quiet celebration — the celebration of Ana’s six years, eight months and ten days on Earth. There’s no anguish here, just music made with supportive and graceful musicianship by performers who are very capable of rising up to the task.

We don’t really know Ana, of course, but her father gives us a pretty good idea through these songs. The happy-go-lucky swinging strut of “Last Summer,” the almost lullaby-like pure tone and expression of Greene’s tenor (with Kenny Barron’s sympathetic accompaniment) on “Where Is Love?” and the buoyancy of Christian McBride’s bass solo on “Seventh Candle” all give us a window into her young soul without the need for any words.

Words do play a part, though. “Ana’s got a way about her,” Greene assures us through the eminent jazz vocalist Kurt Elling on “Ana’s Way,” a lyrical adaptation of Greene’s Mission Statement original “Ana Grace.” That ‘way’ is magnified by backing from a children’s choir, comprised of former classmates of Ana’s and her brother Isaiah — who survived Sandy Hook. “Her life teaches us a lesson,” they sing.

Ana herself sings, too; she’s heard from a home recording of her jubilant voice that opens “Saludos,” followed by a solemn strain mainly performed by Greene’s dignified sax, played alongside Pat Metheny’s acoustic guitar. At the end of Greene and Metheny’s sweet duet is a segue into a rendition of “Come Thou Almighty King,” performed at the Greene household by Isaiah on piano with Ana singing the lyrics. The solace that Greene has long found in his Christian faith comes to the fore on “Prayer,” featuring another fine pianist Cyrus Chestnut and the words of the Lord’s Prayer sung with an elegant flow by Latanya Farrell.

The lesson that Ana’s life teaches us, Greene reveals, is that while we fixate on the profoundly grotesque, there’s beauty all around us — the beauty that comes from a child’s smile, wonderment and innocence. He and his family endured their share of grief and sense of loss, to be sure, but the Jimmy Greene that emerged for these recordings is at peace, and grateful for the short time he had shared with Ana. Greene signs off his liner notes with a confidently triumphant pair of words:

“Love wins.”

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron