Henry "Pucho" Brown certainly doesn't waste any time limbering up on "Caliente Con Soul." For starters, "El Nino Mambo," the album's opening track, is fueled by the crackling cross-rhythms emanating from the bandleader's timbales and John "Mad Hatter" Spruill's piano. The tune's forward thrust is then recharged by spirited choruses from reedman Eddie Pazant and guitarist Marvin Horne. An invigorating performance from start to finish, the track reaffirms the band's hard-won reputation for fusing Afro-Caribbean beats with modern jazz harmonies.

Like Tito Puente, one of his chief influences, Pucho places a lot of emphasis on improvisation and group interaction, which is one of the reasons why even Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" proves a pleasant surprise. Pucho's rhythmic might and stamina are evident throughout the album, especially on the closing tour de force "Descarga on Las Palmas," yet he never tries to overshadow his bandmates or stifle their creativity with rigid arrangements.

At times, the eight-piece band is augmented by guest musicians who bolster and brighten its tonal palette, but the core group is enticement enough to keep listening, if not dancing. As for the "soul" reference in the album's title, it's justified by the sultry "Lena's Mambo," Lou Donaldson's "Funky Alligator," and the haunting pop standard, "Laura."

Appearing Friday at 2:K:9.

To hear a free Soundbite from Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8129. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)