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By Dan Grunebaum

Little Creatures

Mercurial singer-songwriter Takuji Aoyagi’s group celebrates 15 years with a new album and outdoor concert

Masato Suzuki, Takuji Aoyagi and Tsutomu Kurihara
courtesy of Hot Stuff

The founders of the “slow food” movement in Bra, Italy, probably had little idea that their concept of a locally produced, carefully prepared alternative to fast food would be extended to music. But that’s what the promoter Hot Stuff has done with its Slow Music Slow Live events, which have brought evenings of mellow tunes and organic foods to the shady precincts of a temple in Ota Ward for the past few years.

The event has proven such a success that this year’s Slow Music Slow Live has been expanded to three days. The first day’s program, “Evening Breeze,” features homegrown bossa-nova singer Lisa Ono as headliner, while the third day puts the emphasis on jazz with singer/flugelhorn player Toku fronting a new group TKY. But perhaps the second day’s program promises to be the most interesting.

The evening will be devoted to celebrating the 15th anniversary of one of Japan’s most consistently creative bands in the form of Little Creatures. Led by multi-instrumentalist Takuji Aoyagi, the Creatures have compiled a respectable discography of careful arrangements and gentle melodies that first set the tone with their 1990 debut, Things to Hide.

A musician’s musician whose main instrument is the guitar but who can also play just about any string instrument that falls into his clutches, Aoyagi is an ethno-musical voyager who in some ways shares a curiosity for exotic destinations and local musical cultures with American guitarist-anthropologist Ry Cooder, discoverer of the Buena Vista Social Club.
An inveterate traveler, Aoyagi brings diverse influences into the mix of not only Little Creatures, but also the more jazz-oriented Double Famous, who will also be performing, and his solo act, which he calls Kama Aina (Hawaiian for “local” or “islander”).

A recent solo retrospective for key independent UK imprint Domino, Musical Activist, was Aoyagi’s first introduction to an overseas audience, and was compiled from his many Japanese releases. “I sometimes think that my music reminds me of a remote island somewhere,” he says in the liner notes. “On the other hand, it also sounds like a champroo (mixed bag) music of an island, which is a melting pot of everything from the outside world.”

Little Creatures’ new disc and first in four years, Night People, was recorded onto old-fashioned eight-track analog tape, and leaves nothing to waste. Aoyagi’s Spartan guitar work and understated vocals are set off by Masato Suzuki’s subtle bass and keyboards and Tsutomu Kurihara’s jazz-inflected drums. The effect is moody and reflective to the point of introspection.

Aoyagi’s other activities include running two labels (his own, Chordiary, for Little Creatures releases and the Folkcore imprint with Japanese independent P-Vine) and producing the Orca brand with artist/designer Tamie J. Hirokawa, which creates clothing like the famous “Don’t shoot” T-shirt for journalists in war zones.

Also on the bill for Slow Music Slow Live are a number of other intriguing Japanese acts. With 12 albums under their belt, Little Tempo are a dub/reggae-flavored instrumental ensemble rooted around the expert steel-pan playing of Takashi “Tico” Toki and Gen Tamura. The nine-piece group first ventured abroad to play the Meltdown Festival in London in 2003, and this spring they released Super Tempo on Victor’s Speedstar imprint.

Filling out the lineup are the expert three-piece Clammbon and singer/guitarist Mukai Shutoku, best known for his work with acclaimed indie-rock group the Zazen Boys.

Ikegami Honmonji, July 17. See concert listings for details.

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