Friday, August 27, 2010

Catalyst - The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (Porter Records 1972, 2010)

Despite a dismal economy, Philadelphia had a vibrant music scene in the early 1970's with active scenes in funk, soul and jazz. What was so interesting about the band Catalyst is that they combined all of these threads into a funky jazzy fusion that was all their own. Consisting of Eddie Green on keyboards, Sherman Ferguson on drums and percussion, Odean Pope on saxophone, flute and oboe and Al Johnson or Tyrone Brown on bass, they developed a style of fusion that drew from the likes of Miles Davis and Weather Report, yet retained a distinctive manner of its own. This album contains their first two LP's, Catalyst and Perception. Hints of their distinctive manner can be found on "East" which features Pope on oboe, getting a mysterious and unusual droning sound that is nicely integrated over electric piano and percussion. After an electric bass and drums interlude, Pope returns developing a pinched and nasal sounding solo that is exotic and alluring. I have been an Odean Pope fan for a while, especially liking his deep tone on the tenor saxophone and his conception of music, so its especially interesting to hear him in his formative years on this collection. He is particularly powerful on "Perception," soloing over electronic accents and funky bass. He builds his tenor solo architecturally in a patient manner to a powerful statement. Green leads a spacey keyboard bass and drums section that is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band. Pope then comes back, first on flute then on saxophone, building urging the band to an intense conclusion. His saxophone is dark and rich on "Celestial Bodies," playing off of the kozmigroov electronics and adding free-ish overblown accents to his solo. A bonus track "Jabali (demo recording)" pulls all of the threads of the band together into a tightly woven fabric: funky bass and electric piano rippling under energetic and vigorous saxophone, making the music simultaneously soulful and exploratory. "Fusion" is still something of a dirty word among jazz fans, but when it was done well as on this collection the music has a lot of spirit and energy. Drawing from the fertile Philly soul scene and adding elements of post-bop and avant-garde jazz, the band was able to stake out their own territory as a vibrant and original ensemble. The Complete Recordings Vol.1 -

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