Every musician, I assume, has a prime source for inspiration. For saxophonist and composer Jimmy Greene, that’s been his daughter Ana, who had given him that inspiration during her life and in the aftermath of her shocking, tragic death that made international news. More than four years after the Sandy Hook massacre that cut short Ana Greene’s life, Ana continues to be a muse for her father. Flowers – Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (April 28, 2017, Mack Avenue Records) finds Jimmy Greene in a better spot in his life, because he chose to turn misery and grief into music that’s a celebration of the spirit of Ana and the forces of good.
Thusly, Flowers isn’t a low key affair that A Beautiful Life was at times, but jazz through the cheerful, carefree lens of a six year old. Greene, rest assured, is still making the same polished, attenuated music that endeared himself to us back in ’09. The difference now is that he makes the music a little more playful and lighter on its feet, music that someone at both six and sixty could dance or at least bob their head to.
You can hear him having a good time recording the 6/8 Brazilian samba festival tune “Stanky Leg” or the Nola-inspired second line “Stink Thumb” (apparently putting forth a notion that if it smells bad, it must sound good). On the former, pianist Renee Rosnes spins a tastefully flowing piano solo and the latter is livened up by Ben Williams’ pocket aware bass and Otis Brown III’s jumpin’ snare drum. On both, Greene delivers a happy, prancing soprano sax.
Other songs are inspired by Ana’s own words: “Big Guy” is what she called her 6’6″ father and the song of that name swings in a unique, dynamic way. “Fun Circuits” (“Don’t let them suck your fun circuits dry, Mom!”) has complex rhythms and Mike Moreno’s guitar with Rosnes’ Fender Rhodes give it a rock-jazz flair but also characterizes childlike exhilaration and unpredictability.
“December” is a song with a multidimensional complexion to portray the range of emotions that occur at the Greene household during this month every year (holiday season without Ana, anniversary of the Newtown massacre). But even here Greene is pushing forward; the song works through the mixed emotions with vigor and Brown’s drums make sure of that.
Sometimes words are needed to fully explain the feeling, and accordingly, a couple of vocal turns are included. Sheena Rattai takes on the task on the titular “Flowers” with words inspired by Ana’s book of flower drawings intended as an expression of love to her father. Greene offers what he calls “some humble advice to parents” as conveyed by Jean Baylor on the sweet ballad “Someday” while Greene’s cool, assuring tenor sax flutters around.
The only song Greene didn’t compose came instead from Level 42. Greene had revealed to us before that there was “something about Ana” so you might say he turned this 1986 hit “Something About You” into a message about her. Greene gets really creative with the middle of it, practically making up a whole new section where he again drops down chops from his soprano sax.
There’s talent galore on this album: besides Rosnes, Moreno, Williams and Brown, there are also appearances by Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, John Patitucci, Rogerio Boccato and Kevin Hays. They all do their part to help make Flowers – Beautiful Life, Volume 2 a worthy successor to Greene’s gorgeous tribute Beautiful Life. But Jimmy Greene’s biggest help comes from within. Inside his heart, where Ana Grace Greene lives and thrives.
1. Big Guy
2. Stanky Leg
4. Second Breakfast
5. Fun Circuits
6. Stink Thumb
10.Something About You
Otis Brown III
Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts