Pucho Brown: 'Soul Brother' Number One

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Ain't too many cats can get into that funk like we can get into the funk. Latin groups and jazz groups, they can do jazz, and they can do the Latin, but they can't do the funk like I can do it.
In the coin of the realm, Henry "Pucho" Brown - conguero, timbalero, and bandleader of the Latin Soul Brothers - is one bad mamma jamma. You either dig Brown's Latin and African rhythms or you don't - but once you dig them, brother, you stay dug!

Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers have been cold kicking Latin boogaloo like nobody's business for four decades now. The Hideout (Milestone), their new release, keeps rocking Brown's trademark beat-crazy mixture of pop, rock, soul, and ballads. "The Hideout was a bar at 113th Street and 8th Avenue," Brown explains. "It was booming for 35 years or so - from the '40s into the late '60s - and I used to play there as a kid. The new album is a tribute to the musicians who played there and the gangsters who hung out there."

The Hideout

Brown's long career consists of several phases. He recorded for Prestige Records in the 1960s, seven Latin Soul Brother albums seething with funky Latin jazz or Latin jazz-funk or whatever you choose to call it. Several featured extraordinary funk drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie and guitarist Billy Butler, and were arranged by keyboardist Neal Creque, who moved on from the Soul Brothers to work with Grant Green, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and Mongo Santamaria.

Few people who heard these Prestige sides would doubt Brown's ability to cut a groove. But no one could have anticipated that, decades and thousands of miles across the Atlantic later, these albums would germinate into seeds of acid jazz. Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers' music, in particular their raveup / beatdown of "Got Myself a Good Man" (originally recorded by Gladys Knight & The Pips), became the style of choice among London DJs in the mid-1990s. Moving to introduce Brown into a scene he did not even know he helped create, Prestige released the compilations Legends of Acid Jazz in 1996 and Cold Shoulder in 2000. As Brown opens the liner notes to Legends of Acid Jazz : "In the mid-Sixties, when soul music came out, we started playing Latin soul. It was a mixture of soul and jazz, like soul-jazz. Today the kids call it acid jazz."

"The kids" knew a good thing when they heard it, and their "acid jazz" helped launch this latest phase in Brown's career. He continues to resolutely lead his music forward, while also respecting its sources, and The Hideout is typical eclectic, electric Latin Soul Brothers. Guest vibraphonist Joe Locke adds sparkle to the title track, and liquidly tumbles into and out of the verses of a rousing "Superstition" (Stevie Wonder), where guest saxophonist Dave Ellis honks out gutbucket melodic reply. Latin compositions such as "El Albaniquito" (Tito Puente) and "Para Mongo," which Locke adorns in icy cool blue crystals, a facile cover of James Brown's "Born to Groove" that sounds just a little too slick, and the romantic ballad "Ruby," all sizzle in this same skillet, everything cooked with Latin hot sauce.

Like his music, Pucho Brown remains colorful, passionate, and just keeps rocking onward. "I've done some achievements in my life, and I ain't finished yet," he enthuses. "This album should do a lot because it's a hell of an album." This most soul-full of the Latin Soul Brothers spoke with AAJ upon the release of The Hideout.

Cold Shoulder

AAJ: Where did you get the name "Pucho"?

HPB:The Pucho name came from a group in Cuba called Pucho & the Alfarona X. As a teenager I had a poster on the wall of Machito and Tito Puente - I think, or Tito Rodriguez - and Pucho & the Alfarona X. A friend of mine came up to the house, looked at it, he thought it was kind of funny, he laughed and said "I'm gonna call you 'Pucho' from now on."

Editor's Note: In May 2004, AAJ received the following eMail:

"My name is Louie Cruz. I don't know if you've heard of me but I played with Ray Barretto from 1967 thru 1974. I'm a pianist, arranger & composer of "salsa" music. I read your article on Mr. Henry "Pucho" Brown & just wanted to set the record straight. My father, LUIS CRUZ, was the founder of the band named "ALFARONA-X" in PUERTO RICO in 1941. The gentleman Mr. Brown refers to as "Pucho" was the lead trumpet. The original band consisted of 1 trumpet, 1 clarinet, tres player, bass, bongo,piano, 2 singers & my father on guitar & vocals. The clarinetist was Irene Caras' father. My father brought the band to NY in 1945 & it became very famous very quick. They played with Machito, Puente. Tito Rodriguez, Arsenio etc., etc. By then it had become a full fledged band with 3 trumpets. We moved back to Puerto Rico & my father left the group with the lead trumpet (Pucho Marquez). Just wanted to let Mr. Pucho that it wasn't a Cuban band."

AAJ: Is there any way you could spell that band name for me so that I don't screw it up?

HPB: No, I don't. (laughs)

AAJ: You play timbales on the new album. What other percussion do you play?

HPB: I play a little bongos and a little conga drums. Just very little.

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