Two years after the death of his six-year-old daughter, Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, saxophonist Jimmy Greene returns with 2014's Beautiful Life. Both a direct response to Ana's death and a celebration of her life, Beautiful Life is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting album. Backed by a stellar rhythm section featuring pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Lewis Nash, as well as a handful of guests and many close friends, including NBC's The Voice season one winner (and fellow Hartt School graduate) Javier Colon, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, and singer Kurt Elling, Greene has crafted an album of deep spiritual grace, imbued throughout with Ana's exuberant personality and wide-eyed joy in life. With his warm, burnished saxophone tone and swinging improvisational lines, one might expect Greene to stick to a straight-ahead jazz approach here. Certainly, while his concept is grounded in soulful post-bop jazz, he displays an open-hearted, cross-genre love of music, reworking a contemporary Christian worship song into a small-group jazz number, as he does on "Your Great Name," and setting "The Lord's Prayer" to music, as he does on the orchestral "Prayer" with vocalist Latanya Farrell. Whether it's his lyrical duet with pianist Kenny Barron on "Where Is Love?" from the musical Annie or the spoken word soliloquy set against a children's choir in "Little Voices," delivered here by The Princess and the Frog actress Anika Noni Rose, Greene incorporates songs and artists Ana loved. And it's not just Ana's spirit that's present on all of Beautiful Life; working with guitarist Pat Metheny, Greene begins the album in poignant fashion, weaving together recordings he made of Ana singing both the traditional Puerto Rican holiday song "Saludos" and the hymn "Come Thou Almighty King." Although born out of tragedy, Beautiful Life is surprisingly never sad or, as one might understand, angry. On the contrary, by celebrating his daughter's unconditional love for her family, music, and life, Greene transforms his personal anguish into something that's as inspirational to the soul as it is beautiful to the ears.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar