Anne Sajdera | New Year

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Jazz: Post-Bop Latin: Brazilian Jazz Moods: Instrumental
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New Year

by Anne Sajdera

Skillfully arranged modern jazz originals that reach musically across two continents and several cultures.
Genre: Jazz: Post-Bop
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Pictures (feat. Bob Mintzer, Miroslav Hloucal & Jan Fečo)
6:18 album only
2. New Year (feat. Miroslav Hloucal & Jan Fečo)
5:13 album only
3. Treasure (feat. Erik Jekabson)
3:28 album only
4. Butterfly Effect (feat. Miroslav Hloucal & Jan Fečo)
7:11 album only
5. Changeling (feat. Miroslav Hloucal & Jan Fečo)
7:18 album only
6. Bright Lights (feat. Erik Jekabson & Lyle Link)
3:41 album only
7. It Depends on That (feat. Miroslav Hloucal & Jan Fečo)
4:33 album only
8. Even the Sun Sets
1:45 album only
9. Azul (Live) [feat. Miroslav Hloucal & Jan Fečo]
7:30 album only


Album Notes
What started for Anne Sajdera as a simple visit to her ancestors’ homeland in Central Europe became a revitalizing musical journey. Over the past two decades the conservatory-trained San Francisco pianist has created a luminous body of original, improvisation-laced compositions deeply informed by her love of the verdant Brazilian songbook. But with New Year, she has opened another creative chapter shaped by her ongoing collaboration with a brilliant cast of Czech jazz artists. More than a voyage of self-discovery, her Czech sojourn has turned into a creatively charged musical bridge between Prague and the Bay Area.

The project’s origins date to 2014, when Sajdera booked a trip to the Czech Republic. “After spending a lifetime getting grounded in European classical music, jazz, and Brazilian music, I wanted to find out who am I,” says Sajdera, a player known for her exquisite touch and gift for melodic invention. “My mother’s people are from Bohemia and Moravia and there was family over there we’d never met. I wasn’t there for musical purposes, but it’s such a musical place and I rapidly met a lot of excellent players.”

Musical acquaintances made on that first trip gradually ripened into a full-fledged collaboration when Sajdera brought trumpeter/composer Miroslav Hloucal and alto saxophonist Jan Fečo over to the Bay Area for a series of concerts that culminated in the New Year recordings. A creative meeting of minds, the album features pieces by all three composers interpreting each other’s music.
A composer-in-residence for the Czech Radio Big Band and first-call trumpet player in Prague, Hloucal is a master in the post-World War II jazz continuum. He and Fečo, who is similarly versed in jazz and Roma folk idioms, are longtime collaborators whose affinity for each other’s playing is evident throughout the album.
Working closely with veteran producer Ray Obiedo, Sajdera created a highly cohesive album while using two very different rhythm sections. On her own pieces she relies on her longtime bandmates Gary Brown (bass) and Deszon Claiborne (drums). The Czech pieces feature the supple tandem of Dan Feiszli (bass) and Jason Lewis (drums), though Sajdera is quick to point out that the goal wasn’t to create something that could be construed as Czech swing.

“Unlike, say, Brazilian musicians, I don’t think there are many Czech jazz musicians who want to say, this is Czech jazz,” she says. “Occasionally someone might bring in a folk element, a Roma or a Moravian melody, but even during the Cold War when access to music from outside the Soviet bloc was limited, they’re influenced by the same players as we are. What electrified me was the tremendous skill level.”

The album opens with Hloucal’s “Pictures,” a sleek tune that feels like a lost track from a Donald Byrd Blue Note album, circa 1964. The brawny presence of tenor sax great Bob Mintzer jump-starts the proceedings with a jolt of energy.

Hloucal’s beautiful tone and exquisite craftsmanship as a composer are evident on his award-winning tune “Butterfly Effect,” a lustrous melody that bobs and weaves with its own internal logic. Another Hloucal piece with the same personnel as the opening track (minus Mintzer) is his intricately constructed “Changeling.” With its rapidly shifting time signatures, the tune would trip up a lesser band, but the quintet snakes through the rhythmic undergrass with the dexterity of a samba parade.

Fečo, who doesn’t display his consummate skills as a bassist on the album, contributes a gorgeous arrangement of a traditional Roma tune that he retitled “It Depends on That.” The song’s origins are evident but not overt, as Fečo extrapolates on the melody to create something with an inquisitive emotional feel led by sparkling piano work that evidences Sajdera’s love of Herbie Hancock.

While sharing the spotlight with her Czech collaborators, the leader also offers a multifaceted view of her compositional sensibility. On the title track, which features the great drummer Alan Hall, she introduces a joyously singing melody that takes a dark, angsty turn at the end. It’s a piece she’s played often with her trio, and the threatening ostinato at the end reflects the rising apprehension with the approach of the 2016 presidential election.

With the all-American personnel her Hancockian tunes “Treasure” and “Bright Lights” might seem like outliers on the album, but the tracks fit gracefully into the album’s overall post-bop continuum. The former is a beautifully orchestrated piece that marries Erik Jekabson’s burnished flugelhorn with Joyce Lee’s strings, and the latter adds Jekabson’s trumpet and Lyle Link’s alto sax to her trio for an excursion inspired by Hancock’s “Eye of the Hurricane” solo.

The album closes with two of the most striking tracks. Sajdera’s solo rendition of her alluring ballad “Even the Sun Sets” unfolds as Impressionism meets jazz by way of Milton Nascimento. And the live version of “Azul” completes a link by featuring Hloucal and Fečo on the title track to her acclaimed 2012 debut album, a piece that’s evolved from an elegiac offering to Yemanjá (the orisha of the ocean) to a celebratory samba-reggae workout.

In many ways, Anne Sajdera’s path has always led her back to the water. Born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1965 to a military family, Sajdera grew up in San Diego, where she absorbed a deep love of the ocean and sun-drenched landscape. Piano lessons as a child led her to form a tight circle of musical friends who often gathered to play together. She maintained a steady diet of Chopin waltzes, Bach two-part inventions, and Beethoven sonatas in her piano studies but at the age of 13 became intrigued by Chick Corea’s My Spanish Heart.

In her late teens she explored pop music, performing with local pop bands and writing pop songs, all the while intending to study linguistics and foreign languages at Reed College. After family circumstances caused her to relocate to the Bay Area in 1985, she redirected her energy to the piano, uncovering a love of composition in the process. She auditioned at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and was accepted as a piano performance major, switching to a composition major at the end of her sophomore year, as her interest in composition fully blossomed. Focusing on 20th-century repertoire, she performed regularly with the Conservatory Orchestra, which gave her exceptional opportunities like playing Stravinsky’s Symphony in 3 Movements, and the overture for Nixon in China conducted by the opera’s composer, John Adams. Listening relentlessly to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, her incipient investigation of jazz took off when she began a relationship with an accomplished jazz guitarist, with whom she was soon playing casuals. A class at Berkeley’s Jazzschool with the great Brazilian pianist/composer Marcos Silva sparked her enduring passion for Brazilian music. Before long she was gigging around the Bay Area with her own band Pelo Mar, which honed a sophisticated repertoire of tunes by Hermeto Pascoal, Airto, Toninho Horta, and Eliane Elias. An original member of Bat Makumba, she has performed many times in San Francisco’s huge Mission District Carnaval celebration.

Her debut album, 2012’s Azul, is also a reflection of her deep and abiding passion for Brazilian music. Sajdera released the CD on her Bijuri label and co-produced the session with veteran guitarist Ray Obiedo. Rather than simply exploring a program of beloved bossa novas, she mixed her ravishing original pieces with classic tunes by Brazilian masters Ivan Lins, Egberto Gismonti, and Chico Pinheiro. The project, which features the legendary percussionist Airto Moreira, among others, received a place on one of Jazziz magazine’s 2012 Top Ten Critics Polls and was named one of Latin Jazz Corner’s Great Latin Jazz Albums that same year.

The six-year gap between Azul and New Year reflects her ongoing evolution as an artist looking for new expressive avenues. Sajdera made several attempts at “trying to pull together a new vibe,” she says. “I felt like I needed to expand in a different direction, and it took some time to clarify where my inspiration was coming from.” In 2013, she recorded but did not release an arrangement of Egberto Gismonti’s “Frevo” for piano trio, as well as an arrangement of Chico Pinheiro’s sensuous ballad “Essa Canção.” In 2016 she released the single “Our Lady,” a capriciously driving Latin jazz tune originally composed and arranged for a performance by the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra featuring John Santos.

“Our Lady” was the first sign that a new and inspired direction was forming in Sajdera’s creative output. “I was writing new music all along and I could see it was rapidly changing,” she says. “By 2015, the Prague musicians’ influence was coming in.” And it was in 2015, in the spirit of International Jazz Day, the project launched by Herbie Hancock in his role as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, that Sajdera began to connect the Czech jazz scene to the Bay Area scene. Producing a pair of pilot concerts featuring sax virtuoso Karel Růžička and organ maestro Ondre J, two Brooklyn-based musicians who originally hailed from the Czech Republic, the plan to collaborate in the studio with Jan and Miroslav began to take shape.

With Sajdera’s New Year, personal renewal and international bridge-building go hand in hand, with an album that marks the start of a possibility-laden creative alliance.



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