Saxophonist-composer Jimmy Greene has long been a heartfelt and reverent artist, unabashed about revealing the domestic priorities in his life. His best album, 2008′s The Overcomer’s Suite, includes songs honoring his wife and his son, and two related to the Bible. Renditions of traditional spirituals and compositions honoring his musical mentors are frequently part of his records.
That foundation helps Greene and his listeners move their way through Beautiful Life, an album pointedly designed to celebrate and remember the existence of his daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, who was murdered in her first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012.
Greene was flooded with offers of assistance from his cadre of musical friends in the wake of the tragedy, so the personnel here are top-notch and committed to the prevailing beauty he wanted to establish. He performs duets with guitarist Pat Metheny (“Come Thou Almighty King”) and pianist Kenny Barron (“Where Is Love?” and “Maybe”), two of the more elegant stylists in jazz. A sublime core quartet of bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash, pianist Renee Rosnes and Greene are on six of the 10 songs, often abetted by others ranging from vocalists Javier Colon (who sounds like Stevie Wonder) and Kurt Elling to members of the string section of the Hartford Symphony and a local children’s choir.
Greene has accomplished his mission admirably — Beautiful Life carries its considerable emotional freight with poignant professionalism. There are vivid reminders that this is Ana’s story: The record opens with a tape of her singing “Saludos” accompanied by her older brother on piano, and the Greene-Barron duets on the show tunes from Annie and Oliver! reflect her precocious love of theater. Greene states in the liner notes that he wrote two of the four originals — “Last Summer” and “Seventh Candle” — on “what should have been Ana’s seventh birthday.”
Greene and his wife Nelba have dug deep within themselves not to fall victim to despair, using the credo, “Love wins.” Beautiful Life is faithful to that spirit while chronicling what a costly victory it has been.