A reissue of a band’s catalog usually serves one of two purposes. It can be a victory lap for an already celebrated act and a way for the band or record company to line the coffers amidst all that backslapping, or it could be an invitation for potential fans to introduce themselves to a previously overlooked act. Consider Catalyst’s The Complete Recordings firmly in the latter camp. The Philadelphia jazz outfit earned regional success during a brief period in the early ‘70s, but disbanded before its music could reach many listeners beyond the mid-Atlantic seaboard. Fortunately, for the rest of the country, critics and a dedicated fanbase have kept the group’s formidable reputation alive, with efforts culminating in Porter Records’s repackaging and remastering of Catalyst’s four albums.
Initially a discovery of producer Skip Drinkwater, the Philly group blends jazz, bop, rock, swing, and any other number of styles into a—yes, fusion—of genres, usually leaning toward the prefixes “free” or “avant”. Drummer Sherman Ferguson anchors the band with his complex, seemingly effortless rhythmic cartwheeling. The rest of Catalyst’s members prove equally adept, with keyboardist Eddie Green taking the lead on tracks like “East,” noted sax player Odean Pope putting his shape-shifting mark on every record represented here, and bassists Al Johnson and Tyrone Brown (on all but the first album) easily finding grooves in the band’s territorial exploration.
Songs like Green’s “New Found Truths,” which slides by slickly on his intuitive keyboard work, and Brown’s “Uzuri” show the band reeling in its more freewheeling tendencies to create subtly sharp, beautiful compositions. “Perception” leaps to the other side of the room on an extended jam that shows Catalyst’s remarkable improvisational chops on every level. Bridging the gap are tracks like “Athene,” aided by atmosphere-inflating violins and flutes, and the unabashed funk of “Fifty Second Street Boogie Down”. Catalyst was a restless band, possessed of a special kind of creative energy that propelled members toward constant revision and experimentation. Now, anyone who missed it the first time around can catch some of that contagious ambition anytime they like thanks to Porter Records.
- Multiple Songs Porter Records