Chiemi Nakai: Ascendant

Edward Blanco By

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Unleashing her third album as leader, pianist/composer and arranger Chiemi Nakai delivers her best outing to date, melding jazz, the Latin sound and elements of Japanese pop. Containing mostly original compositions from the artist, Nakai also includes a couple of fresh re-arranged jazz standards from Thelonious Monk and Gene De Paul.

The Latin tinge is present throughout the music, sprinkling a spicy tone all over the album, and quite nicely at that. Of course, Nakai's musical support for this effort draws on many musicians from the Latin genre including reed man Alejandro Aviles, bassist Carlos DeRosa, drummer Juan Felipe Mayorga and percussionist Wilson "Chembo" Corniel.

Also gracing the set on the title track, is jazz icon Vince Cherico, pounding the drum set as Nakai takes to the keyboards on a rising statement befitting its title. The album begins in strong fashion with two originals ("Your Spirit in the Sky with Hawks" and the melodious "I Will Meet You Again"), setting the stage for what's to come with superb key work from the leader and exquisite backing from Aviles on alto saxophone.

The Latin sound comes roaring through on "Volver," with vocalist Mari Koga voicing in Japanese and Rafael Monteagudo pounding the cajon in support of Mayorga's drumming and carries through on Nakai's arrangement of "Monk's Mood." There's kind of a break from the Latin sound on De Paul's classic "You Don't Know What Love Is," played straight with little departure from the melody but still coming through as a fresh new take.

Closing out the set, the leader reverts to some more Latin elements on the finale, "Noche Especial," a fast-tempo Latin number full of timbre and a taste of salsa, capping off one heck of a session. There are many special moments on Ascendant, revealing an engaging experience of jazz with a Latin flavor, and marking the leader's continuing ascendance.

Track Listing: Your Spirit in the Sky with Hawks: I will Meet You Again; Ascendant; Volver; Monk's Mood; You Don't Know What Love Is; Noche Especial.

Personnel: Chiemi Nakai: piano, keyboards; Alejandro Aviles: alto saxophone, flute; Justin Flynn: tenor saxophone (3); Mari Koga: vocals (4); Carlo De Rosa: acoustic bass, electric bass; Ruben Rodriguez: electric bass (5, 7); Joel E. Mateo: drums (1, 5, 7); Juan Felipe Mayorga: drums (2, 4, 6); Vince Cherico: drums (3); Wilson Chembo Corniel: congas (5, 7), guiro (5); Rafael Monteagudo: cajon (4).

Title: Ascendant | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Self Produced

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