There it was with a dancing lady on its cover. A cheap RCA repackage of Perez Prado in the thrift store record bins just waiting to go home with me for a dollar. Maybe it would be worth more than a dollar if I didn’t like it. My only real exposure to Latin music up to that point was from Seventies Latin tinged disco I had heard on the radio back in my grammar school days. A taquiera had opened next to the record store I worked at and while the only Latin music I heard in there was mariachi, the ladies working the counter were beautiful with their dark eyes and I was always in thrall to women speaking with a foreign accent. So for those purely musical reasons I bought the Prado album. I could always stick one of the tracks from it between Black Flag and Mudhoney for kicks at the college radio station where I dee-jayed.
Within a few months I was gobbling up as much Latin jazz as my disposable income allowed. I blame it all on the timbales. They did something to me deep inside my slam dancing soul. Spanish cries of abandon I couldn’t understand sounded of a world of resonating joy and pleasure. I would have put it down for just simple suburban slumming. You know the kind: suburban kid picks out some music genre more authentic than what the major labels were doing; perhaps blues, reggae, folk, or yes Latin jazz. But if it was slumming I’m still doing it years later. Latin jazz still makes me smile in almost dazed wonderment. It’s bombastic and spirited; a music that’s always in motion, but not one dimensional by any means. It can convey sorrow and pain also. But what I really feel sorrow for are the people that have yet to hear its greatness. Concord has just released a great introductory compilation Soul Cookin’ which should help spread the love to more of you out there.
There are 14 tracks by 7 artists: Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, Mongo Santamaria, Poncho Sanchez, Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, and Chico O’Farill. Highlights include Tjader’s “Guarachi Guaro (Soul Sauce)” which gets a jazzier take than the version that was a hit. “Bodacious” by Poncho Sanchez is a funky soul jazz throw down. “Greasy Greens” by Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers gets a thumping intro that gets you looking for the break that never arrives. Tito Puente’s one track is also excellent.
The focus is on soul jazz for the majority of the disc which does limit the improvisational moments, but songs like “Hot Barbecue”, “Fatback”, “Corn Bread Guajira”, and “Tacos” are a blast and perfect for a party. The Poncho Sanchez tracks provide some nice moments for the less pop inclined. There’s also a rousing version of the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Manteca” performed by Chico O’Farill. The only thing I find lacking in this compilation is the lack of recording dates information. It would be nice to know when the songs were recorded and who the side players were on the dates.
Soul Cookin’ makes a fine addition to the Latin jazz enthusiast’s music library or a wonderful introduction for a newcomer to its sonic richness and rhythms.