Chiemi Nakai: Ascendant (2019)

By Raul da Gama - May 23, 2019 / Latin Jazz Network (

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


In my album reviews of artists, I usually highlight certain songs, various solos or specific performances of musicians. The more I tried to utilize that democratic format re: Chiemi's albums, the more I realized that Chiemi herself was the real hook for me. Not to ruffle any feathers, let me be clear, the all around musicianship on the recordings reviewed here is very good. But the magic for me is in the hands, heart, mind and performance of Chiemi Nakai. Her keyboard approach is at once playful & powerful.

Her instinct for jazz and latin jazz seamlessly switching back and forth is perfect. Her music is always interesting and at times  fascinating. I have listened to both her "Bridges"& "Transformation"Albums several times with much joy and pleasure. If you are a music lover, I strongly suggest you check out Chiemi Nakai, She is a very special talent and an artist to be reckoned with.

June 3, 2015, By Harvey Averne, an American record producer, the founder of CoCo Records and 2 - times Grammy Award Winner directed and mixed for the albums of Eddie Palmieri “The Sun Of Latin Music”(1975) &  Eddie Palmieri “Unfinished Masterpiece”(1976)

Transformation / Chiemi Nakai / 2014

For Purchase / Contact to : / $15

Refreshing, original, soulfoul, heartfelt .... This production establishes a signature style of life experiences communicated through Chiemi Nakai's both soft and percussive touch to the keys....  Her timing, swing, energy and originality are a gift to my ears....  

Congratulations Chiemi san on documenting your original ideas, your heart and soul.... Thank you for sharing it with us, the world....

May 7, 2014 by Jimmy Bosch(tb)

Chiemi Nakai: Transformation (2014)


EDWARD BLANCO, from All About Jazz

Published: June 4, 2014 | 294 views

New York-based pianist Chiemi Nakai is a native of Japan who began her musical journey in training as a classical pianist but preferred the sounds of Afro-Cuban and other Latin music. Moving to the Big Apple in 1998, Nakai began her professional career performing and touring with international Latin music stars, formed her own group, Chiemi Nakai & the Afro-Cuban Jazz Project and then teamed up with Latin jazz percussionistEmmanuel Bizeau and recorded her debut album Bridges (Self-Produced, 2008). Transformation is her second album as leader containing all original compositions with a decidedly contemporary flair that also possess strong elements of the Latin sound, her preferred style. 

For this album, Nakai keeps the band small preferring to record with in a standard piano trio format using several different musicians for the project. As a Latin music artist,it was only natural that she would draw on players of the style and as such, recruits Pedro Giraudo and young Luques Curtis sharing the duties on bass. On the drum set, Nakai uses Puerto Rican drummer Francis Benitez on three tracks and calls on Cuban drummer Mauricio Herrera—who provides a strong performance—filling in on the playful Afro-Cuban burner "I Will Meet You Again." 

The music opens up in fiery fashion with the hard-driving Latin-tinged heater, "Volver" where the pianist makes an immediate impression on the keys with her quick right-hand finger-play. It's bassist Giraudo who follows with impressive bass work of his own on "The Flying Gray Cat" with drummer Benitez also weighing in on superb solo spaces. The pianist goes it alone with a delicate solo performance on the title track "Transformation 1," displaying a bit of her classical training on a beautiful non-Latin piece of music that helps define the album. 

The short program ends on the appropriately-titled "Heaven Is Here," helping to document one of the better trio sessions around today. Japanese pianist Chiemi Nakai is a sensational pianist and composer by any definition who—with Transformation, her second effort—makes a successful transformation from a Latin-genre star to an up and coming contemporary jazz pianist on the move. No question about the music, it's terrific. Unfortunately, with only a handful of tunes barely qualifying as an EP, one is left wanting much more than what is offered.

Track Listing: Volver; The Flying Gray Cat; I Will Meet You Again; Transformation 1; Heaven Is Here.

Personnel: Chiemi Nakai: piano; Pedro Giraudo: bass; Francis Benitez: drums; Luques Curtis: bass (3); Mauricio Herrera: drums (3).

Record Label: Self Produced

The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz / February 2008

Spotlight: Bridges, Chiemi Nakai & Emmanuel Bizeau


The Spotlight Series highlights upcoming Latin Jazz musicians that have yet to reach national recognition. Many of these musicians thrive in local scenes and some tour in support of releases. All these musicians contribute greatly to the overall Latin Jazz scene, and they deserve our “spotlighted” attention.

Bridges Chiemi Nakai & Emmanuel Bizeau 2008 - Chiemi Nakai Creating a fresh Latin Jazz sound requires a musician to combine elements of the genre’s past, present, and future. Their music needs a solid foundation in tradition and history. By necessity, the musician needs to study their predecessors and digest the lessons of the past. At the same time, their music needs to reflect current thought and modern artistic trends. Their musical interests cannot lie solely in the past; they need to trade ideas with peers and stay open to new directions. While bringing both the past and present into their music, the musician needs to push the style boldly into the future, putting a unique spin on the music. This personal touch shares the artist’s own vision and predicts the style’s evolution. Pianist Chiemi Nakai and percussionist Emmanuel Bizeau unite past, present, and future on Bridges, creating an exciting release that displays their knowledgeable foundation and clear artistic vision.

Clear Connections To The Past Nakai and Bizeau respect their history with several songs that make clear connections to the past. A bata rhythm in 6/8 quickly transitions into an Irakere influenced groove before settling into a rumba guaguanco for the group’s interpretation of the standard “Obsesion.” Nakai creates a commanding presence with an improvisation that assertively blends syncopated figures with logical melodies. She then moves into an up-tempo montuno for a solo from timbalero Marvin Diz and then a cha-cha-cha for Bizeau’s conga solo. Although “The Moon on the Water” exists as an original bolero, the group captures the feel of a classic jazz ballad. Vocalist Mari Koga brings a breathy elegance and inner strength to the song, supported by the rhythm section’s unobtrusive groove. Nakai takes a lyrical approach to her statement, while bassist Noriko Ueda presents an insightfully melodic solo. A unison bass and piano vamp leads into a minor melody over a son montuno rhythm on “La Frontera.” A return to the opening vamp introduces Nakai’s solo, which she builds into an aggressive stream of rhythmic tension and repeated phrases. Nakai and bassist Juan Carlos Formell establish a repeated pattern for Bizeau’s improvisation that displays his impressive technique. Each song highlights the group’s connection to tradition, taking standard forms and twisting them into original statements.

A Strong Awareness of Contemporary Styles Some tracks reflect both Nakai and Bizeau’s strong link to contemporary Latin styles. Nakai boldly presents a timba groove over drum kit player Jerome Goldschmidt’s sparse breakdown to open “Más Y Más,” before moving into a jazz influenced melody. Bass player Mike Herscher alternates between slapped notes and interactive lines behind Nakai’s solo, giving her a diverse backdrop for ideas. The band commits fully to a driving timba groove, pushing the song into high gear for a rhythmic improvisation from trombonist Jimmy Bosch. A menacing series of chords leads into a melody full of long, winding phrases on “Nueva Visión 2,” reinforced by a series of quick rhythmic changes. Bassist Carlos del Pino thrives on the compositional complexity, integrating fast runs and bold phrasing. Nakai contrasts del Pino with a melodically intricate solo, leading into an assertive montuno for a rhythmic interplay between Bizeau and timbalero Richie Flores. Rubato piano flourishes lead into a dance montuno on “Azul,” quickly transitioning into Nakai’s colorful melodic work. Drummer Ludwig Alfonso’s flexible feel gives Nakai’s solo modern jazz freedom to create broad soundscapes with interplay from both hands. Bassist Mario Rodriguez and Nakai dive into a powerful timba groove, creating an opportunity for Alfonso to explode into a wave of improvisational ideas. Each track demonstrates Nakai and Bizeau’s awareness of contemporary trends and their ability to connect with those ideas in a small group Latin Jazz setting.

Moving Their Music In New Directions Nakai and Bizeau put their own twist on Latin Jazz with compositions that move the music in new directions. Rodriguez’s funky bass line sets a contemporary tone on “Sedona,” mirrored by the percussionist’s timba-esque groove. He employs a variety of techniques to add color to his solo before the rhythm section transitions into a standard salsa groove for Nakai’s improvisation. Rodriguez and Nakai join together on a unison line that serves as a foundation for Bizeau’s creative percussion solos. Nakai presents an uplifting major vamp that blends into a subdued bata rhythm on “The Flying Gray Cat.” Formell builds a thoughtful improvisation full of subtle articulations that leads into a change in bata rhythm. Nakai develops an introspective statement, full of tipico phrases that create a striking contrast against the driving feel. Intertwining lines between the piano and bass form a reflective mood on “Fragments of Sadness” as different combinations of percussion instruments create alternating textures. Nakai’s solo explores several melodic and rhythmic possibilities as del Pino breaks the standard tumbao to insert interactive phrases. Her solo builds into a strong minor montuno for a ferocious bongó solo from Flores. These songs find Nakai and Bizeau experimenting with new ideas, pushing their Latin Jazz concept into the future.

Exciting Music That Respects The Past, Present, and Future Nakai and Bizeau bring together their knowledge of the past, awareness of the present, and hopes for the future into a solid performance on Bridges. Their arrangements constantly assert their collective personality while touching a variety of traditional elements. Nakai’s keen harmonic sensibility shapes the form and flow of the songs, while Bizeau’s vast rhythmic vocabulary provides an exciting blend of styles. The duo’s ability to easily step between a traditional Latin Jazz approach and a funky timba groove reveals their deep knowledge of both genres. Despite any historical divides between the different styles, Nakai and Bizeau focus upon commonalities, making the music sound completely cohesive. Their creative combinations of bata rhythms, varying textures, and unique compositional techniques highlights the groups desire to move beyond interpretation and place their identities at the music’s forefront. The group’s inherent abilities imply success in this venture - Nakai demonstrates a breathtaking grasp on style with expressive solos and exhilarating montunos while Bizeau consistently brings instrumental virtuosity and tasteful stylistic performance to the recording. All these elements solidify into an exciting set of music on Bridges that simultaneously respects the past, present, and future of Latin Jazz.

Disk Union Japan



  • CHIEMI NAKAI / US / CD / LT2338 / 2008年03月17日 / 1,990円(税込)

  • 本場N.Y.で活躍する邦人ラテン・ジャズ・ピアニスト/コンポーザー、中井知恵美(Chiemi Nakai)デビュー。朋友パーカッショニストとの共同名義によるクール&ビューティなラテン・ジャズ・プロジェクト作。

    LATIN JAZZ強力新作。本場N.Y.で活躍する邦人ラテン・ジャズ・ピアニスト/コンポーザー、中井知恵美(Chiemi Nakai)が、朋友パーカッショニストEMMANUEL BIZEAUとの共同名義による唯一無二のパワフル&スタイリッシュなラテン・ジャズ・プロジェクト作。Chiemiの日本人離れしたピアノ・ タッチと繊細なハーモニック・アプローチ、そしてEmmanuelの卓越したリズムのコンセプトが核となり、迎えられた実力派プレイヤーを牽引。また、 Chiemiによるオリジナルのレパートリー(#4以外すべて!)も素晴らしく、アフロ・キューバンへの造詣と独特のアグレッシヴなメロディ・メイクが反 映されたクール・ビューティな佳曲揃い。#6では、邦人歌手のMari Kogaによるヴォーカル・ナンバーも収録。ゲストは、Juan Carlos Formell (Bass), Carlos Del Pino (Bass), Richie Flores (Timbales and bongos), Jimmy Bosch (Trombone) と、サルサ~ラテン・ジャズのメジャー・ジーンで引っ張りだこの名手を揃え、Chiemiのプレイヤーとしての信頼の厚さを証明。チューチョ・ヴァルデ ス、ゴンサロ・ルバルカバ、ミシェル・カミーロといったシーンの頂点に立つピアニストのファンにも強力にレコメンド。

    La Frontera
    Nueva Vision 2
    Fragments Of Sadness
    The Moon On The Water
    Mas Y Mas
    The Flying Gray Cat

The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz / March 2011

Spotlight: Afronaughtica, Chiemi Nakai & Mari Koga


The Spotlight Series highlights upcoming Latin Jazz musicians that have yet to reach national recognition. Many of these musicians thrive in local scenes and some tour in support of releases. All these musicians contribute greatly to the overall Latin Jazz scene, and they deserve our “spotlighted” attention.

Afronaughtica Chiemi Nakai & Mari Koga People often discuss the results of various musical collaborations, but we rarely delve into the reasons that artists join together to make music. A collaborative effort results in a distinctly different musical output than a project fronted by an individual artistic vision. On the most basic level, collaboration requires two creative minds to find a common musical meeting point that respects both of their influences and interests. Finding that meeting point requires an investigative process full of shared discoveries, heated disagreements, and interesting encounters. If the musicians work through this journey and continue towards a common musical vision, the results provide ample rewards. The support of multiple musical minds leads to a stronger presentation of each musician’s identity, validating its value on several levels. The combined creativity of each person leads to the emergence of a new and often intriguing musical direction. Most importantly, when two or more musicians work well together, the listeners and the musicians get treated to any number of memorable performances. Pianist Chiemi Nakai and vocalist Mari Koga collaborate beautifully on Afronaughtica, delivering a smart collection of Latin Jazz that respects the tradition and bubbles with creative energy.

Original Compositions That Shine With Personality And Depth Nakai and Koga collaborate on a number of original compositions that shine with personality and depth. A flurry of arpeggiated chords floats into a groove fueled by an aggressive montuno on “Azul,” leading into an original lyric from Koga. As the long lyric stops abruptly, Nakai soars into a well conceived improvisation, which comes alive through active response from the rhythm section. Nakai’s solo falls into a dramatic pause before exploding into a furious montuno that sets the stage for strong rhythmic statements from drummer Ludwig Alfonso, conguero Manu Bizeau, and a scat solo from Koga. Nakai reflectively places an understated vamp over the rhythm section on “The Moon On The Water,” until Koga wraps her vocal around the balances flowing bolero. Koga balances her performance between a breathy sentimentality and a rhythmic motion that fades wistfully into a thoughtfully constructed improvisation from Nakai. The pianist gently creates a lush statement that gives way to a lyrical improvisation from bassist Noriko Ueda, who runs insightful ideas across his instrument. Nakai creates an unaccompanied rhythmic motion colored with rich harmonies on “Fragments Of Sadness - Kanashimi no Kakera” that firmly supports Koga’s beautiful lyric. The natural rhythmic flow of the Japanese words twist delightfully around the clave, enabling some pleasant interplay between Nakai and Koga. The energy of the melody charges Nakai’s improvisation, which draws strongly upon traditional Cuban phrasing, and inspires a driving montuno beneath bongocero Richie Flores’ attention grabbing solo. These pieces demonstrate Nakai and Koga’s defined musical personality and their ability to place that identity within a traditional Afro-Cuban context.

Creative Arrangements Of Jazz Standards The duo leads their group through a number of creative arrangements of jazz standards that display another side to their musicality. A minor vamp coyly slithers over a cha cha cha groove, setting the stage for an engaging performance from Koga on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The vocalist masterfully alters her phrasing around the band’s shifts between cha cha cha and swing, sending Nakai racing into an inspired improvisation. A scatted interlude leads the group back to the melody, where Koga playfully interprets the melody with strong accents and creative embellishments. Koga aggressively struts through the melody on “I Got Rhythm” while the rhythm section lays down a serious dose of Latin funk. Bassist Jorge Bringas throws a punchy bass line into mix as Bizeau riffs around the congas, until Nakai charges into her improvisation with a wealth of blues lines and a thick organ sound. Koga demands attention as she toys with the melody and confidently moves into an energetic scat solo. A staggering 6/8 groove explodes into a double time swing on “It Don’t Mean A Thing” as Koga forcefully winds the familiar melody around the rhythm section. Koga skillfully builds a commanding scat solo around the changes, using repeated phrases, rhythmic tension, and running lines. Nakai grabs a line from Koga’s statement and rides the energetic momentum into a bold improvisation that climaxes with a drum solo from Rafael Monteagudo. The rhythm section establishes a blazing son montuno rhythm on the introduction to “A Prelude To A Kiss,” inviting Koga into the groove with a sudden stop break. The melody takes on a new life as Koga tightly aligns the melody around a series of syncopated band hits, taking some time to make a quick dip into swing. Nakai masterfully sends rapid flurries of notes through the changes, presenting clearly defined ideas within the changing rhythmic context. Nakai and Koga repeatedly display an intimate familiarity with these standards, but more importantly, their creative arrangements and inspired performances really bring these tracks to life.

Consistent Synchronicity That Results In Powerful And Engaging Music Afronaughtica confirms the wisdom of strength in numbers as Nakai and Koga combine their individual qualities into an appealing whole. The two musicians display an artistic bond throughout the recording that reflects years of shared artistic explorations. They share some common influences; there’s a hint of Chick Corea and Flora Purim that lends their performance a modern edge. Each musician holds a good knowledge of traditional Afro-Cuban rhythmic forms, allowing them to interpret the style fluidly. At the same time, their compositions and arrangements reflect a contemporary approach to harmony and melodic themes. The weight of their collaboration never overshadows their unique personalities though; they shine individually at several points. Nakai’s smart arrangements structure the recording wonderfully and she consistently leaps off the recording with commanding improvisations. Koga interprets each melody with sensitivity and insight while her scat solos leap out of the recording with firm authority. Their shared vision generally strengthens their positions as individuals, resulting in a recording that resonates with personality and character. Nakai and Koga play off each other wonderfully throughout Afronaughtica, demonstrating a consistent synchronicity that results in powerful and engaging music.

———- Track Listing: 1. You Don’t Know What Love Is (Gene de Paul/Don Raye/Arr. Chiemi Nakai) 2. Azul (Chiemi Nakai/Mari Koga) 3. It Got Rhythm (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin/Arr. Mari Koga) 4. It Don’t Mean A Thing (Duke Ellington/Irving Mills/Arr. Chiemi Nakai) 5. The Moon On The Water (Chiemi Nakai/Mari Koga) 6. A Prelude To A Kiss (Duke Ellington/Irving Mills/Irving Gordon/Arr. Mari Koga) 7. Fragments Of Sadness - Kanashimi no Kakera (Chiemi Nakai/Mari Koga)

———- Musicians: Mari Koga - vocals; Chiemi Nakai - piano; Manu Bizeau - percussion; Jorge Bringas - bass (1, 3, 4, 6); Mario Rodriguez - bass (2); Noriko Ueda - bass (5); Carlos Del Pino - bass (7); Rafael Monteagudo - drums (1, 3, 4, 6); Ludwig Alfonso - drums (2); Richie Flores - bongo (7)

The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz

Nihonkai Post / August 29, 2014

Chiemi Nakai, a Jazz pianist, from NYC will perform at her hometown, Yonago on September 21st.

Performance notice of September 21st. at Nagirax Loft, Yonago, Tottori, Japan / Nihonkai Press in August 29, 2014

Performance notice of September 21st. at Nagirax Loft, Yonago, Tottori, Japan / Nihonkai Press in August 29, 2014

Chiemi Nakai is a Latin Jazz pianist, an arranger and a composer who is native in Yonago, now lives in New York City, will perform in her hometown on September 21st. She was raised in the area near the Kaike Beach where you can overlook a view of Mt. Daisen. She describes that her music is a blend of Jazz, Latin music and Japanese-Pop with a feeling of nostalgia to Kaike. She will be on stage to express her deep appreciation for people in her hometown.

After graduation from Kwansei Gakuin University via Yonago East High School, she had opportunities playing with a quite few Jazz and Salsa bands in Osaka. In 1998, she moved to New York City and went to Queens College of CUNY and obtained a Master’s Degree In Jazz Performance in 2002. After the graduation, She formed her own band and has been performing actively. She also has an experience performing at Weil Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall.

Currently she has continued performing at NYC’s prestigious Jazz clubs such as Blue Note. This triumphal return performance is arranged by a special committee that her high school mates voluntary aided. Also she will give a performance at the reunion party of Yonago East High School on the day before yesterday.

Ms. Nakai says, “I’d love to show my appreciation to the great nature that harmonized with Mt.Daisen and the Kaike Beach, my loving parents and those who have been supporting me since my childhood. I would be more than happy if I could deliver all my humble feelings through my music.

The show will start at Nagirax Loft at 1pm on September 21st. The address is 6 Hatagasaki-Cho Yonago. The trio is with a bassist, a percussion player and herself. The admission is 3000 yen including one drink. The tickets are available at Yonago Convention Center.

Hot House Jazz Guide, October 2015, P.43

Hot House Jazz Guide, October  2015

Latin Jazz By Emilie Pons

Japanese pianist mixes her musical heritage with jazz and Latin music

 “When I was 20 and just played jazz, I loved the sound of jazz, but I was not satisfied,” Chiemi Nakai explains. “Somehow it was not really deeply touching me.”

Nakai loves giants such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans, she says. “The first time I heard jazz it was Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly, Red Garland and Horace Silver.” However, she thinks Latin music has passion while jazz doesn’t. “Jazz is too intellectual, too complicated sometimes. When I met Latin music, I realized ‘Oh, this is my music.’”

Nakai’s passion for Latin music started when she was around 30 and living in Osaka. “The band Orchestra de la Luz was very popular and became famous in South America and New York,” she recalls. “I knew a few band members. Salsa was very popular in Osaka at that time.”

Nakai’s emerging passion took her to Cuba in 1997 and then to New York, where she played Latin music and learned a lot from the music of Cuban pianists Emiliano Salvador and Ernan Lopez-Nussa. “They played everything, especially Emiliano,” Nakai says. “He was a kind of icon of Cuban Latin jazz.”

Nakai performs at Jazz at Kitano on Oct. 29. “I have been playing there on a consistent basis for six or seven years and that place has made me progress,” she says. “Gino, the manager, gives me a chance every year. He trusts me to play there and I want to give my appreciation back to him―with my music.”

Japanese pop music’s melodies are very similar to Latin music, “with minor chords” in particular, Nakai explains. “The feelings are the same. Latin music is sentimental, sometimes melancholy. It’s not really a happy, joyful thing.”

Many of her Latin jazz compositions are influenced by Afro-Cuban music, Nakai adds. “I love Cuban music and I love Salsa.” Nakai’s main influence is Latin music, but the melody and flavor of her work is Japanese pop music. Nakai was introduced to jazz in her 20s, and then to Latin music. “Now, I somehow combine everything,” she reflects. “Latin jazz, Latin melodies and rhythms in my music are a result of my journey.”

Combining is a Japanese characteristic. “Japanese people are good at absorbing and studying other cultures,” Nakai explains. “Japanese pop music is influenced by American pop songs as well as Latin music.” And Nakai loves the Yellowjackets. “Their music is not complicated,” she says. “The melody is simple and very catchy. Some people might not like it because of that. Some people might think this is not jazz. But I really love the simple, touching melody and the nice arrangements. I love Bob Mintzer.”

Nakai’s upcoming Kitano performance features her quartet with saxophonist and flutist Justin Flynn. “Justin puts my music on another level,” Nakai says. “Of course, I am a composer and I decide what I am doing in my music, but now we create together. We make music together. If I can’t do this range, he suggests another direction that makes me think, and which is very surprising and new.”

Nakai is used to thinking of all the melodies on her own, but recently, she has realized she “wants to hear another melody.” And she loves “the sound of the tenor and soprano sax,” she explains. “Another important part of Flynn’s talent is that he can play the flute,” Nakai adds. “The flute is very good for Latin music. And sometimes I can hear that my music needs the flute.”

Nakai, who has released the albums Transformation (2014) and bridges (2008), now wants to take her career to the next level and is eager to play at some festivals.

Pianist Chiemi Nakai performs at Jazz at Kitano on Oct. 29 with her new quartet featuring Justin Flynn on saxophone and flute, Carlo De Rosa on bass and Vince Cherico, drums.