By Paul de Barros | Published July 2017
Upon hearing Beautiful Life, Jimmy Greene’s deeply moving 2014 album prompted by the tragic loss of his 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, a friend of Ana’s candidly remarked that the music was terribly slow and sad to honor a girl so fond of dancing. On Flowers—Beautiful Life Vol. 2, Greene takes that youthful criticism to heart, offering less a requiem and more an ode to joy, brimming with dance rhythms from North and South America. It’s a celebratory outing showcasing Greene’s piping, pure tone, compositional acumen and two outstanding rhythm sections.
Though Vol. 2 features fewer guests than the first volume, two of the best tracks showcase vocalists singing excellent lyrics by Greene. On the title track, sung by Sheena Rattai (of the Canadian folk trio Red Moon Road), Greene imagines a note his daughter might have written to accompany a book of hand-drawn flowers he discovered among her things. On “Someday,” Jean Baylor (formerly Jean Norris of the soul group Zhané) delivers advice that will bring tears to any parent’s eyes: “Live every day like it’s your last.” Meanwhile, “Stink Thumb,” a kindly reference to thumb-sucking, marches to a bluesy Brazilian street beat, Greene trading lively soprano licks with drummer Otis Brown III and Kevin Hays offering a crisp, chipper Rhodes solo. “Thirty-Two” also percolates with Brazilian rhythm, as Greene moves from a chuffing low register to chomp-offs that bristle with soul.
“December” delves into the emotional turmoil Greene says returns every year during the month when the massacre took place. His screaming tenor, Hays’ clanging urgency, bassist Ben Williams’ aggressive counter-lines and Brown’s whipping sticks urgently render that tension. Greene gives his rhythm sections plenty of elbow room, particularly on “Big Guy,” a notey, rippling outing that manages to be rhythmically diffuse while also sailing smoothly. The boppish dance “Stanky Leg” feels as much New Orleans as Brazilian, with percussionist Rogerio Boccato delivering the racket. “Second Breakfast” has the secret, childlike innocence of Chick Corea, with Renee Rosnes’ Fender Rhodes underpinning a warm bass solo by John Patitucci.
This album’s refusal to let darkness win in the face of grievous loss is an inspiration.
Flowers—Beautiful Life Vol. 2: Big Guy; Stanky Leg; Flowers; Second Breakfast; Fun Circuits; Stink Thumb; Someday; December; Amantes; Something About You; Thirty-Two. (64:02)
Personnel: Jimmy Greene, saxophones; Kevin Hayes (1, 3, 6, 8, 11), Renee Rosnes (2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10), keyboards; Mike Moreno, guitar (5, 9,10); Ben Williams (1, 3, 6, 8, 11), John Patitucci (2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10), bass; Otis Brown III (1, 3, 6, 8, 11), Jeff “Tain” Watts (2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10), drums; Rogerio Boccato (2, 4, 5, 9, 10), Otis Brown III (3), percussion; Sheena Rattai (3), Jean Baylor (7), vocals.