1 Giant Leap – 1 Giant Leap

For me, the surprise hit of 2002 was 1 Giant Leap‘s debut album. Without warning, Jamie Catto, formerly of Faithless, and Duncan Bridgeman disappeared and travelled around the world, working variously with established western artists, stars of what I hesitatingly call “world music,” and less well known names, mixing together their vocals, instrumentation, atmosphere, and also (on the DVD, for this was also a “video album”) the visuals.

Being a mix of sounds from all over the world, it contains instruments and vocal styles that are almost totally alien to me, so I won’t try and describe the sound too much. But Dunya Salam, which opens the album, is gloriously atmospheric, with a deep synth sound, acoustic stylings, and what, if I had to guess, I would assume was a vocal from west Africa (having checked, Baaba Maal is indeed from Senegal).

The second track was also the first single, the brilliant My Culture, featuring vocals from Catto’s former band mate Maxi Jazz, and also Robbie Williams. The lyrics – particularly those delivered by Maxi Jazz – are typically expressive and evocative. With all the bits put together it somehow didn’t work too amazingly as a four minute pop song, but within the context of the album it works brilliantly.

“Only silence remains,” says the sample at the start of my favourite track The Way You Dream. The eastern stylings of the introduction gradually build over a few minutes into something very powerful. Without warning, it’s then Michael Stipe of R.E.M. who turns up to deliver the lead vocal.

I’m not sure I ever really appreciated quite how good a vocalist Stipe is, and he’s in extremely good company on this album. Also performing on this track, for example, is Asha Bhosle, as in Brimful of Asha, the 1997 hit from Cornershop. And the many other things which I should feel ashamed for not knowing her for.

If I had one criticism, it’s that all the geographical cross-mixing can make the album can feel a little disjointed in places. In the context of the “one world” theme of the album, the jump to Ma’ Africa is entirely logical, but the African gospel-style vocals of The Mahotella Queens could come as a bit of a surprise if you weren’t expecting it.

Next up is the second single, the slightly more complete but less catchy Braided Hair, with vocals from Speech and Neneh Cherry from off of the 1990s, which leads into the Maori sound of Ta Moko, with its incredibly moving spoken word introduction. Before you know it this has seamlessly passed the baton onto Bushes to kick off the second half of the album, and Baaba Maal is back with us again.

This is an album which definitely works best listened to in one go, without ever using the skip button, and while everyone will find quieter moments within it, the seventy minutes of music comes together to form something quite exceptional.

Bushes is possibly the darkest track on the album, with sudden unexpected industrial samples and moments of feedback, but in no way is it out of place. Passion, with its tropical conch-shell style percussion and a vocal from Michael Franti is excellent too, as it builds into a huge percussive crescendo. Daphne is tucked away a little unfair towards the end where you might forget it, but is great too.

Of the later tracks, All Alone (On Eilean Shona) is my personal favourite. Eilean Shona, the tiny tidal island on a Scottish loch, with its population of two somehow seems an entirely apt place to set this song. The vocals are fantastic, and the rather unexpected African vocal which turns up half way through does nothing to detract from the deep Celtic atmosphere. We are all of the same tribe, no matter what our background.

Racing Away features a welcome lead vocal appearance from the fantastic Horace Andy, and then already we’re onto the final track Ghosts. The vocal this time is performed by Eddi Reader, and finally, softly, gently, the album comes to a close in beautiful fashion, evoking the ghosts that haunt all of us. Sorry, I’m not sure why I suddenly went all philosophical there.

If, like me, you enjoy a bit of “world music” mixed with electronics, you’re going to get a lot out of this album. There’s really very little to criticise on here – every track brings something, even if it just adds to the general atmosphere.

Incidentally, the review above is for the album, because over a decade later I still haven’t got round to buying the video version yet – if I ever do, you will be able to read about it here.

You can find 1 Giant Leap at all major retailers as a CD or DVD. We previously reviewed the second album What About Me? here.

1 Giant Leap – What About Me?

Pinning down exactly what 1 Giant Leap are isn’t easy. Their eponymous debut album / video-album 1 Giant Leap (2002) was groundbreaking, and featured the likes of Maxi Jazz, Robbie Williams, Michael Stipe, and others, alongside vocalists and musicians from all over the world. On the same tracks.

Once you’ve got the hang of all of that, the opening track on their second album What About Me?, a piece entitled Come to the Edge, makes a lot more sense. Kicking off with a spoken philosophical sample, it then mixes instrumentation and vocals from all over the world, despite only lasting a couple of minutes.

The first proper song Each Step Moves Us On is a little anticlimactic after that opening track and everything that came before it. After a wait of seven years (it was released five years ago this week) this second album was a very long time coming. This time it overflowed onto two discs, becoming a slightly bloated double album, again with a video version for those with the patience.

Maxi Jazz (you’ll remember him from Faithless) turns up for the brilliant How Can I Be a Better Friend to You?, the first of a number of tracks which really hit all of 1 Giant Leap‘s trademarks – there are great vocals, some fun exploratory musical backing, and in general some great songs.

There then follows a whole string of them – There’s Nothing Wrong with Me, Wounded in All the Right Places, and I Have Seen Trouble, featuring mainly African and Middle Eastern influences, with vocals from the likes of kd lang and Michael Stipe from R.E.M.

My favourite track on the first disc is probably the haunting Spanish sound of Solita Sin Solidad, featuring a vocal from Lila Downs but perhaps more remarkably Carlos Santana from The Mighty Boosh on guitar. The rest of the first disc is less remarkable, although the vocal ramblings complete with clicks in Serenity Prayer are a treat to hear.

Disc two opens with Under a Stormy Sky / I’ve Been Away, which features Maxi Jazz again to liven things up, as well as Michael Franti, Eddi Reader, and some other friends. The Farsi rap half way through from Haale is really rather special. The second track What I Need is Something Different is rather brilliant too.

My favourite track on the second half of this album is the driving beat of The Truth is Changing. Apart from a great vocal from former pop idol Will Young, there’s just something very catchy and compelling about it. Similarly Arrival features an appearance from former God Alanis Morissette, and is a very enjoyable track indeed.

Otherwise the second disc has a few less interesting moments, such as the confusing Freedom, or Forgive Me and the last proper track Set Me Free. The closing dub version of What I Need is Something Different is a welcome inclusion.

As a rule I’m not a huge fan of double albums – I think there should always be a good reason for allowing a release to spill over the eighty minute mark. And I’m not sure that reason exists here, apart from the fact that a lot of very talented people put a lot of work in. Even so, it might have benefitted from a little pruning here and there.

But it was definitely worth the seven year wait, and also the work involved in tracking down a copy of the album – when it’s good, it’s every bit as good as the first album, and even when it’s not so great, it’s still a fascinating listen.

Unfortunately What About Me? isn’t the easiest album to get hold of – the DVD is available through Amazon here, but I’ve only ever managed to find the album as an Australian import. But it’s worth the effort!