The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1

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It may be somewhat misleading to call Catalyst a fusion group, since that implies a rock element to the sound, and unlike such contemporaries as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, the Philadelphia-based band rarely incorporated overt rock influences, unless you want to count the use of electric instruments. Rather, their style was a free-form-leaning brand of jazz whose expansiveness was in keeping with the spirit of the era (early to mid-‘70s). Though they never found much success outside of the Philly scene, Catalyst made four influential albums, which were first gathered together for reissue in 1999 under the appropriate title The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. Over a decade later, these sessions see the light of day once more in Porter Records' two-volume set The Complete Recordings. Though Catalyst didn't achieve much success, a number of bandmembers became renowned in their own right, like saxman Odean Pope, who went on to play with Max Roach, but one of the real standouts on the self-titled 1972 album making up the first half of The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 is bassist Alphonso Johnson. He would soon join Weather Report, and spends much of the album tossing out percolating, percussive flurries that keep the often funky grooves fired up, though Ron Baker and Anthony Jackson sit in on a couple of cuts. "Ain't It the Truth" is the kind of jazzy, early-‘70s funk track you could easily imagine as part of a blaxploitation film soundtrack, while "East" is a modal, Coltrane-ish piece with Eastern flavoring, and the open-ended, hard-grooving "Jabali" finds Johnson and electric pianist Eddie Green truly tearing things up. The poignantly melodic midtempo "New-Found Truths" is the closest thing to a ballad, not counting the minute-and-a-half atmospheric closer, "Salaam." By the time Catalyst released Perception later that same year, Tyrone Brown had taken over for Johnson, which may be part of the reason the second half of Vol. 1 bears slightly less rhythmic intensity. There also seems to be a bit more of an attempt to appeal to the mainstream, with two short melodic numbers that almost verge on smooth jazz. The extended workouts of the title track and "Celestial Bodies," however, more than make up for such transgressions, with Green, Pope, and company putting the pedal to the floor in no uncertain terms.

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