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  • Jonathan Widran


An integral part of NYC’s Latin jazz scene since the early 80’s, veteran vibes player Mike Freeman has played throughout North America, Europe, the Azores, Caribbean and South America with a variety of top ensembles.

Entering his second decade as the composer and leader of Mike Freeman Zonavibe, he’s assembled an explosive new quintet – trumpeter Guido Gonzalez, conga master Roberto Quintero, bassist Ian Stewart and drummer Joel Mateo – for the cleverly titled Venetian Blinds, a vibrant, rhythmically diverse dual ode to the spirit of two departed vibes legends, Tito Puente and Bobby Hutcherson.

Yes, Puente was known as “El Rey de lost Timbales,” but he was also a powerhouse vibraphone player. Legend has it that when folks would see him rolling in his vibes in the early days of the Palladium, they would say, “Here comes Tito with those venetian blinds!” Hence the title of an album Freeman – whose last Zonavibe album was a tribute to Cal Tjader - conceived of as a Puente tribute.

His vision naturally expanded when jazz great Hutcherson passed away during the early stages of this project. Balancing Latin spiced originals like “Mambo Kings” and “Night Crawlers” are the brisk, bright Hutcherson-influenced free-for-alls “House of Vibes,” “Clutch the Hutch” and “Bobby Land. Complementing these are several equally compelling tunes inspired by Freeman’s children. It’s as if Freeman is tipping his hat to the past while passing on his gift and seeing the vibrant world he’s leaving for the next generation.

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