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Paul Brown’s Science Gravy Orchestra

I’m not positive when I first saw Science Gravy Orchestra - probably at a Comfest, or maybe at the old 501 Club. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t leave an impression. It left a smoking crater of my mind, to coin a phrase. Formed by guitarist Paul Brown in 1993, Science Gravy Orchestra embodies many things music critics tend to hate - a weird name, jazz fusion, a “supergroup” of musicians. Whatever your personal opinion of supergroups in general or this band in particular, the 1997 album Paul Brown’s Science Gravy Orchestra is one of the more impressive assemblages of talent to collaborate on an album in Columbus. If you think that’s hyperbole, I’ll just say this - here’s a Columbus album that hasn’t received its due.


Paul Brown's Science Gravy Orchestra

Paul Brown's Science Gravy Orchestra

PBSG001

1997

Whether or not the use of “Orchestra” in Science Gravy’s name is a tip of the cap to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul Brown seems to have approached the band philosophically in much the same way John McLaughlin approached Mahavishnu. No limits. No boundaries. Many lineups, many configurations. As The Columbus Dispatch noted in 1993, “Paul Brown's Science Gravy Orchestra is a trio. It's a quartet. It's a quintet. It's a sextet. Paul Brown's Science Gravy Orchestra is a jazz band. It's a blues band. It's a rhythm-and-blues band. It's a pop band. In short, Paul Brown's Science Gravy Orchestra is whatever Brown wants it to be and usually a little more than he expects.”


Many of the top musicians in Columbus have played with Science Gravy at some point, and they don’t mind putting it on their resume. Brown won the 1990 Soundpage Competition in Guitar Player Magazine, which helped connect him and drummer Tony McClung. “When he won the sound thing in Guitar Player, I saw that and heard the plastic 45 in the magazine and saw that he was in Columbus,” McClung said in a 2004 interview with The Lantern. “I looked up his address and found him and said ‘Hey, let's play music.’”


After a couple of cassette-only releases, Brown took arguably the “classic” line-up of the band to John Schwab Recording in 1997 to lay down tracks for what would become Paul Brown’s Science Gravy Orchestra. With production duties shared by Brown, Jeff Ciampa and Joe Viers, the result would be something of a tour de force of Columbus heavy hitters. Opening with horns riffing through what sounds like a transistor radio, Contraption kicks in on a riff at full volume immediately peeling some paint and making clear this isn’t an orchestra in any traditional sense. The first solo is ceded to Christian Howes’ electric violin ripping shards of psychedelic wah-wahed goodness.


Like his playing or not, nobody denies Brown’s technical abilities on the guitar. Equally impressive but less talked about is his compositional skill. Sneaky Demagogues is a good example. It’s melodic, moody and distinctive. This is not music designed for passive listening; and it’s cinematic, segueing from scene to scene, revealing new things with each listen. This isn’t for the faint of heart or fearful of notes.


We get some acoustic guitar with Seemingly Transparent, a beautiful tune that includes a trademark Andy Woodson fretless solo along with a lovely marimba solo from percussion maestro Jim Ed Cobbs. With McClung’s insistent pulse and tasty accents, this is thrilling, inventive fusion. Probably my favorite track on the album.



Slippy is well named as it slips from funk chords to sinuous sax and guitar riffs and back again. Things slow down a bit as Brown pulls the acoustic back out for the moody, string-laden Vapors Of Night Butter. McClung counts in the loping Tupelo, which features Brown’s distorted leads trading off with Joe Crump’s sax. Umbrella is a Zappa-ish rhythmic mood piece sounding like part of a suspense flick soundtrack, complete with a Psycho string break. By the time you get to the short, acoustic Cat, you feel like you’ve been on a journey.

Unfortunately, the economics of this size of a band playing this type of music are nearly impossible, which has dictated Brown often using smaller combos than could execute this material. Critics have been trying to kill jazz fusion for years, and to have players of this caliber playing this music in this town is a real privilege. Informed by the ‘70s heyday of fusion, yet distinctly modern, this album holds up well and sounds like it could have been released last week rather than 25 years ago. It’s one of my all-time favorites. Science Gravy doesn’t play often these days, but when they do, my advice is to be there.


Tracklist

1 Contraption

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

2 Sneaky Demagogues

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

3 Seemingly Transparent

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

4 Slippy

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

5 Vapors Of Night Butter

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

6 Tupelo

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown


7 Umbrella

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

8 Story Musgrave

Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

9 The Heartbreak Of Psoriasis

Arranged By – Andy Woodson, Paul Brown, Tony McClung Written By – Paul Brown

10 12/10/95

Arranged By – Paul Brown, Tony McClung Written By – Paul Brown

11 Cat

Sequenced By – Jeff Ciampa Written By, Arranged By – Paul Brown

Companies, etc.
  • Copyright © – Otherwise

  • Phonographic Copyright ℗ – Otherwise

  • Recorded At – John Schwab Recording

  • Mastered At – Frankford/Wayne Mastering Labs

  • Glass Mastered At – Cinram, Huntsville – H71205-03

  • Pressed By – Cinram, Huntsville


Credits


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