It took me three laps around a dark bar alley in Sangenjyaya before I found the cafe I was looking for, called Rain on the Roof. A few more laps and the locals may have called the cops, my being a suspicious, dark-coated foreigner. But walking up the steps of the cafe I felt the place was well worth getting lost in the gloom to get to: the cafe appeared to be built in a space that was once the attic of a sake shop, a comfortable wooden hall with a black timber ceiling, and the music was rejuvenating.
One of the acts was Frenesi, a woman who sings whispered French pop-influenced vocals over jazz and bossa nova passages, a description, I'm aware, sounds on paper like something far from unusual in Japan. But she was different—a delectably sweet voice, subtly adventurous music, understated swing...the pieces fit together well. Like when you're eating a lovely cake and enjoying every mouthful while at the same time regretting that it's steadily disappearing, I was enchanted by every moment of Frenesi's show but felt sad that all those moments brought it closer to the end.
Little Lounge Little Twinkle
The other notable act was the trio Little Lounge Little Twinkle. I'd seen this group about a year ago, when they played Ennio Morricone-flavored ensemble pop, but they've rebuilt their sound so that they now combine the irresistible charm of children's music, the elegance and gravity of classical (two of the three are music school graduates—Shunsuke Kida's day job is composing, while Keiko Tanaka is a violist), and the energy and edge of pop and rock. It's a potent, radical combination, and I hope they release a CD soon because I couldn't get my head around all of it in just one live listen, though I did enjoy the music thoroughly. The vocalist Miyuki Asano had a sound toy she called Ichigo, or 'strawberry', which added to Little Lounge's playroom classical pop with its cheap, electronic beeps (among other things, Ichigo featured a rusty robotic voice singing Do, Re, Mi....). These guys and Frenesi show me that the new and innovative don't always have to be grating and disorienting, but can sometimes be beautiful and appealing while also fresh.
(Kida and Tanaka were formerly in a band called LPchep3.)
Tokyo is flaring up in autumnal colors now. The bright yellow-gold of the gingko leaves are especially gorgeous.