Man Jumping

World Service

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Brian Eno reportedly described Man Jumping as the most important band in the world, but his assertion didn't really help these dance-friendly worldbeat minimalists sell records, even as, following the release of their 1985 debut album Jump Cut on Bill Nelson's Cocteau label, they moved to the relatively higher-profile EG Records (Eno's label, by the way) for 1987's World Service. Keyboardists Orlando Gough, Glyn Perrin, Charlie Seaward, and Schaun Tozer, bassist/keyboardist John Lunn, saxophonist/flutist Andy Blake, and new drummer Simon Limbrick -- plus nine guests and extraordinary producer/engineer Philip Bagenal -- had the template established by Jump Cut firmly in place: a combination of precisely layered Steve Reich-ian counterpoint with funk, jazz, and dance music stylings and production values aimed at pop/rock audiences. From the very first track of World Service, however, Man Jumping seem ready to widen their frame somewhat, as "The Perils of Tourism" mixes brightly punched-up keys, solid yet nimble bass, and Balkan/Middle Eastern-flavored sax over a 12/8 flamenco rhythm. Midway through the six-minute track the music explodes into a break of nearly orchestral proportions and vocalist "Boris Goodenough" offers up some gruff, throaty declamations, followed by a jagged piano assault as the band churns along with unflagging momentum.

This auspicious beginning is derailed a bit by the following two tracks that appeared on side one of the original vinyl LP. "The Trouble Is Is," an exercise in jazz-funk driven by an up-front midtempo gated drum sound and popping bass, falls short of liftoff despite its steady buildup and (like other tracks throughout the album) variety of sonic oddities and treatments floating through its mix, and although "The Big Swing" is aptly named with its snappy big-band-style chart and Blake's fine multi-tracked sax work, its slick contemporary jazz sheen suggests a potential new EG Records title: Music for Elevators. But the more insistent groove of "Something in the City" fits well with the tune's wide array of tightly funked-up instrumentation, signaling that World Service might truly hit its stride -- which it does stunningly on the final three tracks forming the album's latter half. "On the Rocks" is startling, sometimes ominous, and often more sparsely textured than this album's norm but ultimately both funky and ethereal simultaneously, its moods matching samplings of the appropriately musical voice of bird song recording pioneer Ludwig Koch, who fled Nazi Germany for England in 1936 and has both disturbing and quirky tales to tell here. Next up is the cruising and raga-esque "It's Been Fun," a richly detailed, tabla-fueled immersive wonder with exquisite slow-building tension and deep, sharply accented release. The album wraps with the irresistible high spirits and power of "The Wedding," a groovefest extraordinaire suggesting the Steve Reich Ensemble showed up at a massive global party, bursting from intricate propulsive constructions into gangbusters choruses that left the revelers fully spent. So, Eno's enthusiasm ultimately seems well-deserved, although if importance is measured by record sales, Man Jumping unfortunately fell short.

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