Jimmy Greene

While Looking Up
(Mack Avenue)

Saxophonist Jimmy Greene recorded While Looking Up in March 2019 while he continued seeking inspiration after a family tragedy. With the world’s crises still ongoing, the sense of transcendent joy that he and his group exude throughout the album sounds just as crucial today.

Greene knows that conveying an upbeat attitude still can complement surprising musical shifts. Along with his fluidity on different reeds, Greene’s accomplished group makes myriad quick-thinking changes within his own warm compositions and gospel inflections. One vivid illustration is the way they use perfectly timed pauses and turnarounds on the title track. On “No Words,” Aaron Goldberg’s Rhodes repeats notes that sound like an ominous heartbeat, while providing Greene with a foundation for his own twists and turns. The saxophonist also sounds as if he’s directing a labyrinthine exchange among guitarist Lage Lund, bassist Reuben Rogers and Stefon Harris’ marimba on “Always There.” Greene’s familial loss is addressed on “April 4th”—the birthday of his daughter Ana, who was murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. The piece is a lovely hymn with Greene’s tone sounding especially warm over Harris’ vibraphone. But the most startling track here might be Greene’s introspective take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” Taken at a slow tempo, his dynamic performance transforms the song into a moving lament, his simple gestures speaking volumes.

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