Sometime in the early to mid-1990s two friends from Syosset High School vacationed in the American Southwest. In Moab, Utah they rented 3-wheel ATVs for a ride through a mountainous area resembling a lunar landscape. When they returned the ATVs and sought to pay for their rental, the proprietors of the rental business were not around. Giddy from this bankroll-saving bit of luck, one of the friends took a branch which was lying on the ground and in a moment of spontaneous alias-creation scrawled in the dirt next to the ATVs, “Thank you from the Brown Brothers”.
In 2004 those same friends, who are both music fanatics, were hanging out on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in a seemingly time-suspended hilarity, talking about taking control of their destinies by doing something together which they both loved. Since their highest consciousness and diversion from the essential fatality of life was always achieved by immersion in favorite albums, they decided to make some. The idea made them so giddy it reminded them of that time in the Moab madness so they decided to call the label Brown Brothers Recordings.
They were operating with a microscopic budget by record company standards so they needed the best musicians they could afford to get in and out of a recording studio as fast as they could. Due to the virtuousity of great jazz musicians, a stout contrarian streak and the relative unpopularity of jazz they decided that the genre would loosely be the label’s niche. They wanted the source material to reflect the best of their current taste and from 1992-1999 no songwriters created a better catalog of songs than Stephen Malkmus and Pavement. In December 2004 the Brothers took James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Reginald Veal and Ali Jackson into Electric Lady Studio B for 3 days and recorded label debut Gold Sounds. Those sessions were helmed by budding neo-soul recording legend Steve Mandel, who had been a fraternity brother and close friend of one of the Brothers at the University of Maryland. In September 2005 Gold Sounds was released on compact disc. In 2005-2006 the Gold Soinds quartet promoted the album with memorable live dates at Joe’s Pub, Iridium and Dizzy’s Club in NYC and The Dakota in Minneapolis. So far, so great. Both the compact disc and live performances were smashing critical and modest commercial successes. This is where the story gets more complicated.
Due to non-Brothers related life distractions the label failed to follow up on the success of Gold Sounds. 2006 passed with relatively little label action. The Brothers remained tighter than balls in a scrotum, loosely casting about for the next label project. One of the Brothers wanted the label’s second album to star virtually unknown Swedish harpist-singer-songwriter Malin Johansson. The other Brother didn’t. On Memorial Day 2007, the Malin-loving Brother arranged a showcase in the East Village club Moe Pitkins House of Satisfaction with Johansson, backed by Jeremy Pelt, Wycliffe Gordon, Kendrick Scott, Rod Hohl, Johnny G and Karin Waldemasson. After the show, the Brothers decided the label’s next album would be a set of originals composed and played by Mssrs. Pelt, Gordon, Scott, Derrick Hodge and Warren Wolf and recorded by Mr. Mandel. The recording sessions were held at now defunct Clinton Recording Studio over three days in December, 2007. And then….things just stopped. Years passed, lives happened all around the Brothers. The music recorded at Clinton sat gathering dust. The album, dubbed The Co-Op by producer Pelt, seemed like it would never see the light of day. Finally in 2017 the Brothers pressed The Co-Op music onto sumptuous, German vinyl. The live debut was a source of bitter contention for the Brothers, the latest of several bones of contention which at times took on the tenor of 1980s U.S.-Soviet relations. Indeed in 2016 one of the Brothers even formed another label and recorded two albums in 2016-2017 as the sturm und drang of Brown Brothers life roiled on. A glasnost of sorts seemed in the offing in early 2018 as smashingly successful live Baltimore shows featuring Chestnut and Wolf revived the good vibes (and piano). A set of internecine gigs combining Brown Brothers musicians with musicians from outside the BBR family again tore at the fabric of the Brothers and that brings us current through January ‘18. Check back here as the “about Brown Brothers Recordings” story continues to unfold.
‘There’s lots more about us but we’ll save the rest for now because that’s a lot of information, no? Oh the slideshow below is of the Brown Brothers founders.
-Al Suback, BBR World HQ, late January 2018.