The graceful, fleeting original “Even The Sun Sets”—the penultimate track on Anne Sajdera’s latest album, New Year (Bijuri Records)—gives listeners a hint of the jazz pianist’s strongly classical orientation. You can hear the decades of training in her well-practiced touch, her smooth legato, her confident attack on the keys. What Sajdera builds with this masterful technique, though, is sturdy post-bop constructs, accentuated with razor-sharp rhythms and commanding horn syncronizations. The new album showcases nine such tunes, each a cleanly delineated musical idea in its own right.      

To be sure, the appeal of Sajdera’s new release lies not in technique but in the clarity of her musical intention. Sajdero is clearly in command on tunes like “Bright Lights,” where each soloist (trumpet, sax, piano) cycles briskly through the head against a measured rhythm section, and the title cut, a swinging jazz waltz with duet sections for flugelhorn (Miroslav Hloucal) and alto sax (Jan Fečo). Hers is a straight-forward, flawless performance with no frilliness, no surprises.

Sajdera conceived of the project on a trip to the Czech Republic, the home of her forebears, where she first met Hloucal and Fečo in 2014. The resultant collaboration, which includes her San Francisco-based trio (bassist Gary Brown and drummer Deszon Claiborne), explores cross-cultural themes— Fečo’s modern jazz interpretation of a traditional Roma folk song “It Depends On That,” for example—in keeping with Herbie Hancock’s “call for international dialogue through jazz,” Sajdera writes in the liner notes.

Beyond Sajdera’s five originals, Hloucal contributes three to the recording, including the opener, featuring sax heavyweight Bob Mintzer. “Pictures” contains all of the elements that can ignite borderless bonhomie in its listeners: an irresistible groove, resounding solos, and a straight-ahead melody that gives a nod to the jazz masters. An apropos lead-in to this winning sophomore release.

(Reprinted from the January issue of Downbeat magazine.)