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Boogaloo Bop

[whitespace] Pucho keeps the groove deep in 'Yaina'

By Nicky Baxter

Don't be fooled by the mournful, almost funereal opening Henry "Pucho" Brown and His Latin Soul Brothers stick onto the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Stay with it, and your patience will be rewarded by a torrid workout that Mick Jagger would be proud of. Brown's loose-limbed reconstruction of the rock gem neatly encapsulates his musical approach: heavily percussive, jazzy and funky. This music was called "boogaloo," and in the late 1960s few players could churn it out like Pucho.

Enormously popular on the East Coast during that period, the New York-bred timbalero/bandleader released eight albums between 1966 and '69. Leading a band whose frontline consisted of a fleet of percussionists, braying horn players and a flutist and vibes man, Brown produced hot-tempered grooves that were widely imitated. Indeed, the great Mongo Santamaria raided Pucho's band, hiring away Chick Corea and others. However, the magic produced on albums like Yaina and Super Freak wasn't easy to reproduce. The former (rereleased last year on CuBop), which includes the aforementioned Stones tune, is a lesson in eclecticism. "Cease the Bombing," an anti-Vietnam War statement, is a somber, flute- and vibes-dominated number underscored by a plaintive chanted chorus and languorous percussion. Jazz axman Kenny Burrell's "Chitterlings con Carne" is given an appropriately soulful treatment. This time Harold Jazzbo Alexander's flute is flintier, tougher. His tune-concluding solo is spectacularly intense.

Ironically, Brown was weaned on doo-wop groups like Billy Ward and the Dominoes, the Orioles and the Five Crowns. At the Apollo, he took in performances by Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. It wasn't until he was a teen that Brown became aware of African/Latin music. Tito Puente's recording of "Babarabatiri" turned his head, prompting the 15-year-old to purchase his first set of timbales. Brown is fond of enumerating his requirements for potential band members: "A piano player and bass player in my band," he once explained, "has to play three types of music. He has to play jazz, he has to play funk, and he has to play Latin." Finding such accomplished musicians isn't easy, but Pucho has been fortunate. Then again, perhaps the musicians are the lucky ones.

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Web extra to the March 25-31, 1999 issue of Metro.

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