Matija Dedić – Sentiana [TrackList follows] – Blue Bamboo Music BBM021, 53:59 [3/18/14] ***1/2:

(Matija Dedić – piano, producer; Antonio Sanchez – drums; Scott Colley – bass)

Croatia might not be where jazz enthusiasts expect to find a fine pianist who has melodic gifts, a bright rhythmic sensibility and articulate composing skills. Thus, Croatian Matija Dedić may not be on most people’s inventory of world-renowned keyboardists. Based on his third American release, the 53-minute Sentiana, the Zagreb-born Dedić is worth discovering and hopefully will generate more interest for his artistry.

Dedić’s admirers already include fellow artists. His 2009 US debut, From the Beginning, featured Jeff Ballard (the drummer has played in the Sam Yahel and Brad Mehldau trios, the Metheny-Mehldau Quartet, and Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band) and Larry Grenadier (the bassist has toured with John Scofield and Pat Metheny and was also in Mehldau’s trio). Dedić’s sophomore record, 2011’s MD in NY, had Kendrick Scott (the drummer has recorded with Terence Blanchard and Kurt Elling) and Vicente Archer (the bassist’s résumé includes Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison and George Colligan). On Sentiana, Dedić is paired with drummer Antonio Sanchez (who is best known as a member of Gary Burton’s newest quartet and also was in Metheny’s quartet) and bassist Scott Colley (who is also part of Burton’s current group).

Ten of 11 tracks were penned by Dedić (there is a cover of “Green Dolphin Street”). The threesome begins with the title track. Dedić shows a confident panache as he, Sanchez and Colley move through a dramatic melody. There are several segments with supple developments and a muscular sense of interplay which evokes Mehldau. That could be due to Colley’s firm, adaptable bass lines and Sanchez’s subtle but sturdy percussive structure. Dedić doesn’t copy Mehldau, although his style has some similarity. The trio sprints through the third cut, “Coutlett,” which is sparked by a nimble arrangement, with an ebb-and-surge flash highlighted by Colley’s bass, which at times is either cool and affective or fiery with fret runs, and Dedić and Sanchez’s rhythmic flourishes. The bop-flitted “Uncle M” has a related degree of fast-paced modernity. Dedić swings with uninhibited openness. In particular, listeners should take notice of his right hand chord and single-note embellishments. Colley has a warm, woody solo where his fingers fly, and Sanchez slips in some percussive tangents which augment the tune’s friendly complexity. The trio showcases their flexibility on the lengthy, ten-minute “Deep.” The arrangement has a slight classical slant, which provides a studied undercurrent. But the rhythm and tempo has a free-floating feel, so the track courses through movements which abound with only some restrictions: there is even a short, free-jazz departure.

Interestingly, this is not exclusively a trio effort. Approximately half the material is solo piano. Dedić gives the oft-done “Green Dolphin Street” a regal, European-tinted reading which emphasizes a repetitive rhythmic footing and a nearly rough keyboard attack. “Stella by Skylark” has a comparable pattern, where Dedić hits the black and white keys with stabbing fingers. Other solo pieces, such as “Plan B” and “Helia,” demonstrate Dedić’s lovely winding melodies, which are concentrated and dexterous and display why the pianist has previously been chosen to back Benny Golson, Kenny Burrell and Roy Haynes on stage. Fans of Mehldau, Keith Jarrett or Paul Bley’s trio outings will probably also find Dedić’s compositions appealing. Like those musicians, Dedić creates music best experienced with an active ear which can grasp his intricacy and his shifting tones, moods and harmonics.

TrackList: Sentiana; Plan B; Coutlett; Green Dolphin Street; Deep; Stella by Skylark; Freerony; Uncle M; 6 Umbrella’s; Bremen; Helia.

—Doug Simpson