Throughout time in New York, immigrant communities have congregated where housing is inexpensive, which led to Hispanics of Caribbean descent living in close proximity with the city’s black population. This intermingling of cultures resulted in many thrilling musical fusions, such as Dizzy Gillespie employing Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo in the 40s, or the dance music productions of Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez in the 90s. A high point of these interracial collaborations occurred in the 60s and Henry “Pucho” Brown was at its centre.
In 1966, with the increased interest in Latin music, Pucho and his band were signed to Prestige Records by Cal Lampley, their head of A&R. After naming the group Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers, Lampley produced their debut album, “Tough”, which mixed mambos, soul jazz and pop tunes.
Pucho and the band were not yet reflecting the music that was taking off in the Latin clubs of New York; they were a more staid outfit with one foot in the jazz past. This was emphasised by their second album, “Saffron and Soul”, which pretty much repeated the formula of “Tough”. With a cooking band featuring a horn line-up of Claude Bartee, Harold Alexander and Vincent McEwan, the material mixed originals with jazz standards and current pop hits such as the Four Tops ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’. The originals varied from the soul jazz grooves of ‘What A Piece’ to intense Latin numbers showing the power of the multi-layered percussion.
For their follow-up, “Shuckin’ and Jivin’”, vocalist Jackie Soul joined the line-up, immediately taking the record into Latin soul territory. Perhaps more significantly, pianist Neal Creque was also added; he would play on every Pucho album from this point until the group disbanded in the mid-70s. Creque also contributed three songs to “Shuckin’ and Jivin’”, including the title track, and supplied the vocals on ‘See See Rider’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’. It’s the vocal tracks that make the record sought after by DJs, but the playing on the rest of the album makes it a great listen throughout, with ‘Maiden Voyage’ and the percussive ‘Swing Thing’ demonstrating how capable the musicians were.
There was an effort to present “Shuckin’ and Jivin’” as a step forward. In reality, it wasn’t quite that new, but Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers carried on in the same vein for their next two albums, “Big Stick” and “Heat”. The one after that, “Dateline”, was more sedate, but their final album for Prestige, “Jungle Fire!”, was the one that resonated. Produced by Bob Porter, it featured an incredible cover version of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ ‘Got Myself A Good Man’ that 20 years later became an anthem on the acid jazz scene.
Post-Prestige, the group made albums for Zanzee and Right On in the early 70s, following which they disbanded. Renewed interest in Pucho’s music in the late 80s led to him being tracked down by UK promoter Russ Dewbury, for whom he re-formed the group. The rediscovery led to worldwide tours and new albums. It is, however, Pucho’s Prestige recordings on which his reputation rests and this CD completes our reissue programme of those sides.
By Dean Rudland