WITH THE ONSET of swingmania for the 1990s and then Cubamania for the turn of the millennium, logic would dictate that Latin bands of the late 1960s would be due for a renaissance. If the kids really do want to dance, and the thirty- and fortysomethings really do want to kick back and watch a multi-culti musical display, how could anything be better than a fierce set by someone as ingrained in Latin music lore as Henry "Pucho" Brown and His Latin Soul Brothers?
Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, August 17-18
In the '60s, Pucho was all the rage. A firebrand timbale player, he rocketed forward artistically with each of his eight hard-hitting albums, including the gritty classics Yaina and Super Freak. These records spawned a sound, an amped-up, jazz-funk-Latin type of soul. And now there's Caliente con Soul!, Pucho's first new album for the standard bearers at CuBop Records and a blasting return of boogaloo force. The release is edgy as hell but not so grating as to turn off the legions of fans who came to Cuban music through the Buena Vista Social Club. Pucho's history dictated that he'd maintain such a broad appeal.
As a teen, he made the rounds in the fertile jazz territory that was the Harlem of the early '50s. Pucho's exposure to the mambo was sudden, at least in terms of its impact; he heard a student tapping a mambo beat in his East Harlem school and was hooked. Within a few years, Pucho had seen Tito Puente, practiced his chops, and began playing professionally, eventually forming his own band.
Early on, he watched as Mongo Santamaria and others in the New York scene grew to acclaim, often by drafting young musicians from the groups that Pucho himself had assembled. But once he got his albums onto the airwaves, Pucho was set, at least for several years. His Latin Soul Brothers releases were hits, showing that Pucho had tapped into a public desire to have the cultural mix of East Harlem distilled into an Afro-Latin music, with some fire-breathing funk built in.
A phenomenal performer, Pucho was nevertheless forced to retreat into the Catskill Mountains resort circuit when the Latin sound fell from grace in the '70s. He remained obscure throughout the '80s, and might never have reemerged if not for the onset of DJ culture, which helped cast Pucho in a new light.
Thanks to the UK dance scene's embracing of rhythmic intensity and soul stylings, Pucho has been revived in the '90s. Playing small venues, the 61-year-old band leader now tours regularly, though he hasn't found the kind of commercial success that he met with in the '60s. Still, the percussion work in the Latin Soul Brothers band is as powerfully overwhelming as ever, and alto saxophonist Eddie Pazant plays with a passion that cuts away from his phrases, leaving him a sharp-minded skater cruising over an ice-smooth bed of drum sounds as great as any mambo or cha cha cha or bolero on record anywhere.
So why isn't Pucho riding the same commercial wave as Buena Vista Social Club? American listeners like their "other" music to come from afar; they prefer the indigenous music of Cuba over the more urban, bustling music developed in New York—even if it uses almost the exact same set of tools to assemble its core sound.
Pucho plows on regardless, concocting a fusion of James Brown funk, traditional Cuban styles, and a brick house of percussion and rhythm that none of his peers, from Puente to Poncho Sanchez, can match.