Chiemi Nakai displays her remarkable piano chops with the heavy left hand tumbao while still managing to be delicately eloquent. Even when she is at her most percussive – on “Volver” one of five original compositions and the only vocal track – on her third album, Ascendant, her pianism is awash with shimmering arpeggios and filigreed runs as she sets up the melody for vocalist Mari Koga to spin the song’s gossamer-like melody. It is a fluttering song, full of soaring highs and dizzying drops and is characteristic of Miss Nakai’s derring-do both as a pianist and a composer as well. Of course her ability to morph into a fully-clad Latin-Jazz musician is at its fullest stretch of imagination on a magnificent transformation of Thelonious Monk’s radiantly introspective song “Monk’s Mood”.
Remarkably, throughout this album there is no outrageous sentimentality that is usually associated with a musician expatriate in the Latin realm. However, Miss Nakai’s ability to emote through deeply felt feelings is clearly evident in her own compositions such as in “Your Spirit in the Sky with Hawks”, a gripping tale that is at once radiantly ebullient as well as profoundly meditative. Her ballad “I Will Meet You Again”, although somewhat forlorn radiates deeply-felt warmth as hope springs eternal through its choruses. Another skill-set emerges in the interpretations of the smoky ballad, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, which – not surprisingly – Miss Nakai turns into a wonderful Latin-tinged song.
Miss Nakai is accompanied along the way by a marvellous group of musicians. Some, like Vince Cherico, “Chembo Corniel and Rubén Rodriguez may be better-known than the core members of her group which includes Alejandro Avilés, Justin Flynn and Carlo De Rosa. Make no mistake, however, the musicians aren’t along for the ride here; each gives deeply an interiorised performance which can only come from a complete attunement with Miss Nakai’s vision and artistry and it is this highly empathetic and idiomatic performance that echoes through the music making the album one to absolutely die for.
Track list – 1: Your Spirit in the Sky with Hawks; 2: I Will Meet You Again; 3: Ascendant; 4: Volver; 5: Monk’s Mood; 6: You Don’t Know What Love Is; 7: Noche Especial
Personnel – Chiemi Nakai: piano and keyboards; Alejandro Avilés: alto saxophone (2, 6) and flute (5, 7); Justin Flynn: tenor saxophone (3); Mari Koga: vocal (4); Carlo De Rosa: contrabass (2, 4, 6) and electric bass (1, 3); Rubén 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) and güiro (5); Rafael Montaegudo: cajón (4)
Released – 2019
Label – Music Roots Records
Runtime – 37:55