As well as guitar, Imai also plays viola da gamba. Born in Kawasaki in 1955, Imai studied with two of post-war Japan's leading musical iconoclasts, Takehisa Kosugi and Masayuki Takayanagi. Imai studied under Kosugi at the Bigakko art school from 1975, and as a graduation project he participated in the East Bionic Symphonia collective improvisation performance and recording. Kosugi invited Imai to play with his well-known mixed media group Taj Mahal Travellers, which he did from 1975 to 1977. Imai also studied under guitar virtuoso Masayuki Takayanagi, and was the only one of Takayanagi's private students to ever graduate.
Imai played for several months with Takayanagi's New Directions group in 1976. Imai withdrew from live performance completely between 1985 and 1991. When he returned it was primarily as a solo performer, at a still ongoing series of self-promoted concerts entitled "Solo Works". From this time he began releasing solo and duo records, and performing with Western musicians who visited Japan, including Lee Konitz, Barre Phillips and Arthur Doyle. In 1997, Imai was instrumental in reforming East Bionic Symphonia, under the new name of Marginal Consort. The group continue to play one concert each year.
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