Pianist Sarah Jane Cion Is Coming On Strong — And Sweet

Winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition has new CD, Moon Song.

Sarah Jane Cion demonstrates throughout Moon Song, her second CD, that she is one of the most poetic young pianists in jazz.

"Sarah represents something very honest and fresh," said producer Steve Getz, who is son of the late saxophonist Stan Getz. "We need people like her in this business. She is extremely lyrical and has a formidable technique."

The recording on the Naxos Jazz label spotlights seven originals from the 33-year-old Cion, Johnny Mandel's "Moon Song" and a solo piano medley that captures the essence of everyone from George Gershwin to Bud Powell. Cion, a graduate of New England Conservatory, has taken the vocabulary of pianists Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Wynton Kelly and melded it into her own language — one that combines aggression with sensitivity and tradition with exploration.

"I've always had extremely high standards," Cion said from her home in the Bronx, N.Y. "These musicians were some of the best at their craft. I'm trying to emulate that."

She's on her way. In November, Cion won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, an annual event in Saratoga, Fla. The judges were pianists Horace Silver, Kenny Barron and Ellis Marsalis.

"It was truly an honor for me to win the competition," Cion said, still in disbelief. "I decided to go there and relax and just focus on my music. I guess the judges enjoyed my performance."

What comes through whether in live or recorded performances is a penetrating honesty. It permeates Moon Song, on which Cion combines vivid textures into a seamless tapestry. Her choice of bandmates certainly doesn't hurt the project either. The great drummer Billy Hart is here, as is Chris Potter, one of the most sought-after players in jazz, on two cuts. The bass player, Phil Palombi, is Cion's husband.

All are paragons of dependability, impeccable in support and economical in their soloing. After the thoughtful, intensely meditative "A Pond Beneath the Moon," the players stretch out on Cion's "Last Cha-Cha in Longbeach." Potter plays with a cheerful disposition on "Suncycle," and he's at his lyrical best on "Moon Song," a wonderful version of a familiar song.

The internal logic and exacting simplicity of "Blues for Chick" (RealAudio excerpt) offer excellent examples of Cion's expansive ability. "How Long Has This Been Going On" is conceptually rich and reflects the groups attention to compositional detail.

Though Cion is proud of her 1998 CD Indeed, she said, "I really wanted Moon Song to be my first statement. I'm excited about the recording. People will get to hear my compositions and come to understand my sound and my style."

Cion performance dates:

April 7; New York, N.Y.; Berries n' Beans

April 12; New York, N.Y.; Sophia's Restaurant

May 4; New York, N.Y.; Sophia's Restaurant

May 26; New York, N.Y.; Sophia's Restaurant

June 3; Metuchen, N.J.; The Cornertone

June 14; Metuchen, N.J.; The Cornertone

June 17; Indianapolis, Ind.; Indy Jazz Fest

June 18; New York, N.Y.; JVC Jazz Festival — St. Peter's Church

June 24; Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; JVC Jazz Festival