Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hey Hermano!


Remember that time I had a music blog?

My sincerest apologies to you, dedicated reader. The past month and a half have been a zoo, both at work and at play. I've been deejaying and promoting fairly regularly, which is equal parts rewarding and exhausting. And in the moments between my day job and my night job, I've been lounging in parks, barbecuing in backyards, and fishing on the Toronto islands.

The weatherman says it's going to be another beautiful one today. I'll be heading out soon and hope you will, too. But before we hit the road, let's set the tone for fun in the sun.

Brew some late-morning coffee, throw open your windows, turn up your stereos and flood your homes with latin soul jazz.

The African-American percussionist and timbalero Henry "Pucho" Brown was born in Harlem in 1938 and spent his formative years taking in jazz concerts at The Apollo Theater, while taking in the Nuyorican culture blossom around him, as Puerto Ricans immigrated to the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. It was while in grade school that Pucho first heard one of those imported and infectious mambo rhythms, pounded into a desk by a classmate. Pucho attributes this providential moment for setting his musical career in motion. 

For Pucho and The Latin Soul Brothers, who formed in 1959 and began cutting records for jazz label Prestige in 1966, the way had already been paved by their heroes, Tito Puente, Sabu Martinez, Cal Tjader, and Joe Cuba. And outside of New York's Latin community, the 1957 broadway musical West Side Story, followed by its 1961 film adaptation, had further introduced a wider, whiter, audience to tropical polyrhythms.  

Although never reaching the heights of those above-mentioned pioneers, the Brothers garnered a certain amount of success during the Latin craze of the 60s. Pucho, himself, was picked up by Lonnie Smith to play timbales on his landmark album Think!, and while not recorded he sat in with Lee Morgan, Gene Ammons, Tito Puente, Milt Jackson, George Benson, Melvin Sparks, Ron Carter, King Curtis and Robert Flack. Moreover, as perhaps a compliment to Pucho's leadership, but certainly much to his chagrin, the more established bandleaders of the era, including Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria, had a nasty habit of poaching the better players from the Pucho's brotherhood, including pianist and Miles Davis alumnus-to-be, Chick Corea.

Stylistically, Pucho and The Latin Soul Brothers are best remembered for their eclecticism, which some critics have argued also hindered them, as they never established a distinct and marketable sound.  But in retrospect it's this very fusion of jazz, latin, soul and funk that establishes Pucho as a key player in the Latin Boogaloo movement. More to the point, despite the confluence of sounds, there is most definitely a common thread, and hallmark even, to Pucho's music: namely its ability to explore popular tunes from a myriad of genres through the Latin idiom, while making them danceable and accessible, yet not  hokey or commercial (in the pejorative sense). In addition to his own top shelf material, Pucho laid out some solid covers of Herbie Hancock, The Temptations, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and The Beatles, a band I often loath to see covered by saccharine cool jazz artists.

The 70s saw the popularity of Latin jazz wane, the Soul Brothers disband and Pucho signed on for an extended gig playing in-house at a Catskills resort.  As nearly twenty years passed, it appeared that this new arrangement would become Pucho's assigned fate.  But in the late 80s, London's fledgling acid jazz deejays rediscovered the Soul Brothers' earlier dates and completely revived their career.

The UK label Beat Goes Public, operated by the late Baz Fe Jazz and a much younger Gilles Peterson, reissued any number of upbeat offerings from houses Prestige, Riverside and Fantasy, but it would seem that Pucho held a special place in their hearts.  BGP repressed most of the Soul Brothers' albums and featured their cuts on a number of compilations, including Acid Jazz Volume 1, The Best of Acid Jazz, The Best of BGP, Afrodisia, and Latin Jazz - The Essential Album.

After nearly a decade of revival tours, much of them spent in Europe, Pucho began publishing new material on CuBop, the Latin and Afro-Cuban sublabel of Ubiquity Records.  Most recently, in 2004 Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers returned home, releasing The Hideout on Milestone Records.  Milestone and Pucho's first label, Prestige, are both part of the Fantasy Records family.

***

It's the BGP reissue of Jungle Fire! which turned me on to Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers, so I'll start with a selection from that album.  The prohibitively expensive original press on Prestige is coveted for its dancefloor killer "Got Myself a Good Man," as well as a plethora of other breaks and samples.  


Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Got Myself a Good Man," Jungle Fire! Prestige, 1966.

Discogs: Jungle Fire!




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Jamilah," Jungle Fire! Prestige, 1966.

Discogs: Jungle Fire!




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Cantaloupe Island," Tough! Prestige, 1966.

Discogs: Tough!




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Just For Kicks," Tough! Prestige, 1966.

Discogs: Tough!




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Aye Ma Ma," Saffron and Soul, Prestige, 1966.

Discogs: Saffron and Soul




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Payin' Dues," Heat! Prestige, 1968.

Discogs: Heat!




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Homeland," Yaina, Right-On, 1971.

Discogs: Yaina




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Chitterlings Con Carne," Yaina, Right-On, 1971.

Discogs: Yaina




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Medley: Superfly-Pusherman-Freddie's Dead," Super Freak, Zanzee, 1972.

Discogs: Super Freak




Pucho and His Latin Soul Brothers - "Oak Hurst Art," Super Freak, Zanzee, 1972.

Discogs: Super Freak

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