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In the late 1960s Henry “Pucho” Brown was at the top of the heap. Successfully merging Soul, Funk and Latin rhythms into a steaming, genre-bending gumbo he hit upon a formula that packed both the dance floors and his pockets. A deluge of albums ensued, but predictably those later in the cycle relied heavily on the innovative elements first advanced by their earlier brethren. The result was a homogenous approach that precipitated to the eventual break-up the band in the wake of changing public tastes. Cold Shoulder offers a generous sampling from four of Pucho’s seminal albums for Prestige ( Big Stick, Heat!, Dateline and Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers ) and finds the crew pounding out their signature brand of Latin-saturated groove.
Listening to these tracks today it’s easy to hear how and why this stuff caught on like it did. Thoroughly contagious vamps, spooky vibes, a veritable phalanx of percussion, Fender bass and small cadre of moody strings; all were key ingredients of the day. Other funky elements included Neal Creque’s hot-buttered organ and Seldon Powell’s Varitone sax, and as a charismatic front man Jackie Soul’s gruff voiced shouts meshed well with the rough fidelity of many of the tracks. His emphatic emotionally charged pleas as on “No One Knows” reference the best in Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. Production values on the sessions may not have been extravagant, but the Soul Brothers made up for any sonic imperfections with uncompromising allegiance to all things rhythm.
The bulk of the tracks are originals penned by Creque, but there’s also a handful of colorful covers including Gladys Knight & the Pips “Friendship Train,” and the Temptations “Cloud 9,”a psychedelic burner that clocks in at nearly nine minutes. Other tunes, like the title track which features brooding counterpoint between the strings and William Bevin’s vibes, show off what an accomplished arranger Creque was. Considering that he was working within the inherently limited confines of the boogaloo song form he managed to concoct an admirable array of variations.
The final four numbers (which include the aforementioned covers) visit the Soul Brothers on their downswing and foreshadow their eventual demise. The central problem arises in a blatant shift from the percussion-centered grooves of earlier tunes to horn and guitar/bass driven charts that were the common language of most Soul combos. These latter elements were the weakest aspects of the Soul Brothers’ instrumental palette and the players do little to distinguish themselves along these lines. Still, taken as a whole, this is an entertaining and undeniably funky set presenting some of the band’s best work alongside less sturdy fare. Pucho reassembled his group in the early 90’s and is currently enjoying a renaissance abroad- proof that this early work is of more than just historical interest and should be accessed by listeners looking for a piquant twist on the time-tested tenacity of Soul Jazz.
Tracks:Sunny/ No One Knows/ Cold Shoulder/ Big Stick/ Left In the Cold/ Payin’ Dues/ I Can’t Stop Loving You/ Let Love Find You/ Georgia On My Mind/ Dateline/ Bim/ How Did It Happen/ Friendship Train/ Jamilah/ The Spokerman/ Cloud 9.
Collective Pucho- timbales, conga, drums; Al Pazant- trumpet; Barry Rogers- trombone; Eddie Pazant- tenor & baritone saxophones, flute; Seldon Powell- Varitone saxophone, flute; Standford Allen, Alfred Brown, Matthew Raimondi, Selwart Clarke- violins; William Allen, Seaborn Westbrook- Fender bass; Neal Creque- piano, organ, clavinet, electric piano; William Bivens, Jr.- vibes, piano, clavinet, traps, cow bells, percussion; Norberto Apellaniz- bongos; Cecil Jackson, Joe Armstrong- conga; Richard Landrum- shakers, guiro, tambourine, wheedle; Bernard Purdie- drums; Jackie Soul- vocals; the Soul Sisters- vocals.
Recorded: December 5, 1967, April 23, 1968, February 11, 1969, NYC, NY. January 12, 1970, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.