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Maximum Joy: Unlimited (1979-1983)

Maximum Joy
Unlimited (1979-1983)

On the track “Building Bridges”, Maximum Joy’s Janine Rainforth sings, “How do you feel about building a bridge / Between you and me / Between them and us?” A great deal of Maximum Joy’s output seems to deal with building bridges. Musically, the group’s use of complex percussion, horns, danceable bass lines, and overtly English female vocals built a bridge between the worlds of Afrobeat, reggae, avant-garde jazz, funk, and pop. On a personal level, the band built a bridge connecting musical luminaries like the Pop Group, Adrian Sherwood, Dennis Bovell, Nellee Hooper, and John Peel. The group came together in Bristol, England, in 1979 and besides Rainforth, included Tony Wrafter, Charles Llewelyn, John Waddington, and Dan Catsis. Llewelyn was a former member of Glaxo Babies, Waddington was formerly in the Pop Group, and Catsis and Wrafter had played in both bands. Later, they would be joined by Kev Evans, future super-producer Nellee Hooper, and Jeremy Hirsh.

The large and constantly evolving lineup meant that Maximum Joy had a lot of sounds at their disposal, including piano, violin, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, guitar, bass, and drums. The biggest weapons in the band’s arsenal, though, were simple imagination and creativity. In fact, Maximum Joy is an apt name for a group whose music is so joyous and delightful. It might be appropriate to call the group’s genre-bending blend of sounds “world music”, if that term wasn’t associated with so much boring music. Maximum Joy’s music is more exciting and adventurous than what passes for “world music” today, and is most aptly compared to the output of other experimental acts of the post-punk era such as the Pop Group, the Slits, Rip Rig & Panic, and New Age Steppers. Maximum Joy enjoyed a pretty good run in their day, too, recording some BBC sessions for legendary DJ John Peel, working with producers Dick O’Dell and Dennis Bovell, and having their recordings appear on the revered labels Y Records (distributed by Rough Trade) and 99 Records.

Unfortunately, the band’s numerous singles and lone album have languished in obscurity for most of the digital age. All that is changing, though, as the new Unlimited compiles Maximum Joy’s 7″ and 12″ singles and a sampling of tracks from 1982’s full-length Station MXJY (the entire album will be issued on CD in Japan in January 2006). While there is an infectious, adventurous spirit that flows through each of Maximum Joy’s songs, the tracks on the compilation are fairly diverse. The mid-tempo “White & Green Place” mixes jazzy sounds and Afro beats, while the drum-fueled workout “Dancing on My Boomerang” is downright frenetic. “In the Air” is pure joy, filled with exuberant vocals and upbeat saxophone breaks, and “Stretch” is a more rock-sounding track with shouted vocals, prominent guitar, and funky breaks. While both are instrumentals, “Simmer Till Done” is an ethereal piano-led track, while the more avant-garde “Where’s Deke?” recalls Adrian Sherwood’s sonic experiments.

Maximum Joy’s lyrics are no less inspirational than their music. “Don’t say maybe / Tell me yes!” Janine Rainforth shouts on “Stretch”. On “Searching for a Feeling” she warns of “So many people of the strange kind / Telling you just what to do with your mind” and declares, “You have gotta get up / Gotta get out / Gotta make the change / Bring it back to focus”. These declarations are simple and pure as the accompanying music is layered and multi-dimensional. The songs of Maximum Joy were forgotten gems, but thanks to the release of Unlimited, they can be rediscovered.

RATING 8 / 10