Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers

During the 1960s, no one combined virtually equal elements of jazz, Latin music, pop, soul, and funk as well as Henry "Pucho" Brown. Pucho and his band (which included at various times such notable musicians as saxophonist Harold Alexander and drummers Bill Curtis and Neal Creque) never achieved the widespread recognition afforded other Latin jazz performers, though the Latin Soul Brothers grooved at least as hard. On recordings and in concert, Pucho -- who is not Latino, but African American -- consciously bridged the gap between the popular Latin sounds of the era from Machito, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Cal Tjader to the funky, soul-jazz sounds of Gene Harris, Stanley Turrentine, and Jack McDuff. He sought to integrate these musics at every turn, beginning with their debut, 1966's Tough!, that included covers of tunes by Herbie Hancock, the Beatles, Johnny Mandel, John Barry, and Burt Bacharach, inserting whatever arrangement got them in jukeboxes and played on dancefloors. Between 1967 and 1972, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers issued eight more albums and a slew of 45 rpm singles. Perhaps their most notable long-player was 1969's Jungle Fire that featured "Got Myself a Good Man," which has been sampled by everyone from the Chemical Brothers and Beastie Boys to J Dilla. While the band did quite well with record sales and touring appearances, the shift in popular music during the early '70s dictated a change in fortunes. After 1972's Super Freak, the band called it a day -- at least in the studio. Various incarnations still toured sporadically in the early '80s. In the early '90s, with the acid jazz and electronic music explosions occurring in Great Britain, DJs rediscovered Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers' catalog, and brought them over for club appearances. In 1995, the band's recordings were being reissued en masse, and the band released Rip a Dip and Jungle Strut, their first two albums in 23 years. Suddenly, Pucho and company were in demand again and toured Europe and Asia. They continued recording with the acclaimed The Hideout in 2004. Pucho toured almost constantly for the next decade before slowing down as he neared his eighties, but he still performs selectively. As a Harlem teenager, Henry "Pucho" Brown cultivated a simultaneous deep and abiding passion for jazz, rhythm & blues, and mambo. In the late '50s, he served for several years in the band of pianist Joe Panama. When the band split in 1959, Pucho formed his own outfit. Even before he'd cemented his reputation on record, his band attracted notice from top Latin jazzmen. Pucho began recording in 1963 and really hit his stride between 1966 and 1970, when he cut over nine albums for Prestige. On these, he helped pioneer a style termed Latin boogaloo, which mixed jazz, New York-style Latin music, R&B/soul, and the sort of funk that was just emerging from James Brown and other performers. Pucho wasn't afraid to mix up his material on his LPs, which placed originals by Brown and the Latin Soul Brothers next to covers of tunes by Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, and John Barry. When his brand of Latin soul/jazz fusion started to fall from commercial grace in the early '70s, Pucho disbanded the Latin Soul Brothers. In the early '90s, however, his back catalog began to generate interest in Britain, where he was a hit with the acid jazz crowd, and where several albums were reissued by the Ace label. Happily, he made a return to Latin-soul-jazz-funk with his 1995 comeback effort, Rip a Dip and Jungle Strut, and toured almost incessantly behind them as well as playing live sets by DJs Gilles Peterson, A Guy Called Gerald, and Kirk Degiorgio. Two more albums followed in 1997, Mucho Pucho and Groovin' High, as the group continued touring across Europe and Asia. In 1999 they dropped Caliente con Soul! for Ubiquity's Cu-Bop imprint and followed it with How'm I Doin'? for Minnesota's Cannonball label, which featured guest spots by trombonist Fred Wesley, flutist Dave Valentin, saxophonist Eric Alexander, and trumpeter Lew Soloff. After a series of residencies and club gigs in various major American cities, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers cut The Hideout -- titled for an infamous West Harlem club the band played in a lot during the '60s. Produced by Todd Barkan and recorded by Katherine Miller, the set included killer covers of tunes by Stevie Wonder, Les Baxter, Bebo Valdez, and Clyde Stubblefield, among others. Pucho's band continue to tour, but stopped recording. ~ Thom Jurek

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