The Jazz Estate logo. Home town R & B favorites runite thanks to a neglected set of congas and a a nudge from the holy spirit.


Brothers By Choice
The Jazz Estate
Milwaukee WI
22 May 2014  

Why is it, at least for my feet, that some music venues are perfectly suited to spend an evening standing in them, where as others? No. The fairly miniscule room of The Jazz Estate fits into the latter catagory for my first visit there, alas. 

It didn't help that I found a seat when I got there, for the first show in over 30 years for local R & B vocal group Brothers By Choice, I plopped myself into a  chair in the club's upstairs (not that many steps really) back corner. Until the bartender came by to say those of us seated at those back tables could stay there until the people who reserved them paid their cover. Alas, that did eventually happen.Standing to listen people's conversations overpowering the DJs playing obscure, collectible '60s and '70s soul singles (most of which I'd surely enjoy were I actually able to hear-and, perhaps, had the floor space to dance to-them)  for more than an hour before the show may have been a new experience for me, but none I'm wanting to repeat any time soon, either.

But, why the fuss over an act that  never issued an album and whose handful of 45s were issued over four decades ago? For some in the packed bar, it was reminiscence of men they knew  firsthand. Among those were likely the Afrimerican clientele dressed to the nines, or at least the high eights, classing up the joint. Others were likely among the city's record collector cognoscenti who may have paid serious dollars for the Brothers' seven-inch slabs of black plastic (one of which is currently demanding  $900 on Others could have been Thursday night regulars copacetic with paying the $7 cover.

Then there's me, working on a chapter on the history of R & B in Milwaukee for a book about the history of popular music from Wisconsin an editor of mine is helping to put together; research that led to an introduction to Andy Noble, funk fiend/record collector/former record shop co-owner/(former?) bassist of Kings Go Forth, a retro-futuristic band who released an album on ex-Talking Heads member David Byrne's Luaka Bop Records a few years ago. He posted news of BBC's reunion gig, for which he'd be playing with at least one other KGF member, on his Facebook wall, I pitched an advance story to one of my editors at a Milwaukee paper where I freelance (pitch was approved), and even without a guest list for the date, attending became a cultural imperative for me.

But, in the course of interviewing him, Brothers leader Clarence McGee spoke of how, though it was neglect of his spiritual life that he led to his recusing himself from activities related to the group, encouragement from his wife's pastor while McGee was cleaning the church basement led him to reconsider. Around the same time, he said the Holy Spirit impressed upon him that he shouldn't hide the gift of singing divinely given him. Providentialy dovetailing within the same period, Noble was scouting out the record collection of another BBC member and asked about a set of congas in his house left over from back when. As that same  Brother called up other old mates of his, they started on the comeback trail, Noble helming their artistic direction and writing new material for the them.

Only a few months later, and Brothers hit The Jazz Estate's stage as a shaven-headed quartet, snazzed up in matching cream/off-white formal wear variations, a couple of them wth black vertical stripes on the sleeves of their button-down, cuff-linked shirts. The harmonizing on the new numbers Noble wrote for them captured the spirit of post-doo wop male vocal group R & B (effectively ended when Jagged Edge's early '00s hit streak petered out, but even then, it was on one leg already wobbling some) without seeming entirely revivalist. Either consciously or by a kind of local osmosis, the new tunes bore some resemblance to the Milwaukee group that had a few years of national pop and R & B hits and who mentored Brothers some, The Esquires, best recalled nowadays for their '67 single, Get On Up."

Considering the way mainstream R & B has mutated into what's effectively a subdivision of electronica, the Brothers' best bet at radio relevance may be through the adult R & B format; even then, if the back-up on any new recordings is like that of their Estate date, with bass, guitar, drum kit and congas, it may even be too organic for that listenership. With the smooth timbre with which the guys' voices have aged, though, it's a theory I'd like to hear tested.

If either of the sides of the ensemble's first single of which McGee told me, finding online documentation of it's come up fruitless so far, so my guess is they didn't sing either of those songs. They ended, however, with their best-known and most collectible pieces. "You Think That I'm a Fool" delivers in the put-upon, begging lover man template with which acts such as The Stylistics and The Dramatics hit big back when;a couple of men on my left, one a casually cowboy-hatted Caucasian and the other one of the aforementioned duded up black gents, harmonized along, even after someone half-kiddingly informed them that the show's supposed to be on the stage.

Brothers By Choice ended with their song that's commanding such nigh collector bids, "Get Up and Dance." The title may be reminiscent of The Esquires' biggest smash, but the song sounds more like something Norman Whitfield may have produced for The Temptations had he hung with them beyond their psychedelic period and worked them into a similar kind of funky disco he oversaw for Rose Royce and Stargard later in the '70s.

Unfortunately, but understandably, McGee didn't let  loose with any of the gospel numbers he's been writing over the past several years.  Were Noble to abet him with those, the results could make for some spine-tingling stuff. That McGee and his chosen brothers were open to reuniting in the iteration that made a plash at the Estate after decades of inactivity bodes well for the future of clean, joyous, earthly  love songs, whichever sector of R & B fans embraces them.

Jamie Lee Rake

The only Brothers By Choice songs to be heard on online that I can find: not to be confused with the likewise pretty collectible Southern California disco band with an album on the ALA label with whom McGee told me his act once played and who swiped their name.


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