The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2

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On Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 -- the second disc in the complete discography of unsung-but-seminal Philadelphia jazz-funk outfit Catalyst, the band seems to have gotten attempt to court commercialism out of their system. Whether they decided that selling out doesn't work if nobody's buying, or simply felt uncomfortable moving in a mainstream direction, there's a greater feeling of experimentation on Catalyst's 1974 album, Unity, which occupies the first half of Vol. 2. At this point, the band began working with a wider sonic palette than before, both in terms of tonal colors and guest musicians bringing different flavors to the proceedings. Good use is made of Unity's extended guest list; for instance, the eerie violins on "Athene" create an unexpected, haunting atmosphere, and when fiddler John Blair steps out for an incendiary solo, it ups the intensity of the track considerably. Original bassist Alphonso Johnson, by that time a member of Weather Report, pops up on "A Country Song" to make for a two-man bass section alongside Tyrone Brown, with one man holding down the bottom and the other playing guitar-like, fuzztone lead lines. Even Skip Drinkwater's production proves to be more adventurous, and his judicious addition of effects, like flanging and wah-wah, serve to open up the sound even further. The second half of Vol. 2 contains Catalyst's 1975 swan song, Tear and a Smile, which was the most ambitious of the group's four albums. It was also the closest to full-fledged fusion -- as opposed to jazz-funk -- with keyboardist Eddie Green making extensive use of synthesizer for the first time, more vocals popping up in the arrangements, and Tyrone Brown digging into a funkier, more wah-wah-heavy sound. Plainly, the band still packed plenty of punch by the end of their career, but history had other plans for them.

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