Mike Freeman & ZonaVibe Explore “Venetian Blinds”

Mike Freeman001

VENETIAN BLINDS / FREEMAN: House of Vibes. Mister Snacky. Bobby Land. Those Venetian Blinds. Clutch the Hutch. Mambo Kings. What’s Up With the Moon? Night Crawlers. Fancy Free. Qué Tal Tio (What’s Up, Uncle?) / Mike Freeman, vib/coro; Guido Gonzalez, tpt/coro; Ian Stewart, bs; Roberto Quintero, congas/guiro/shakers; Joel Mateo, dm/campana / Vibes Out Front 2018-7

The basic concept of this album is that it is a tribute to two of Mike Freeman’s vibes idols, Tito Puente and Bobby Hutchinson. The title comes from the fact that, when Puente would stop playing the drums and roll out his vibes, people would say, “Here comes Tito again with his venetian blinds.”

Thus it was to be expected that at least part of this album would have a Latin beat to it, but what I liked was that Freeman’s band softens the rhythm a bit so that the gentle sound of the vibes comes through clearly, and the leader is quite evidently a fine improviser. Guido Gonzales is a pretty good trumpeter and the rhythm section is both smooth and cohesive. This might make it sound as if this album was “easy listening” jazz, but that’s not the case. There is plenty of energy here, it’s just slightly muted, which is fine by me. The important thing is that the arrangements have a nice, open feel to them and the solos are interesting and creative.

In addition, by modifying the tempos and pacing of these pieces, Freeman avoids a feeling of déjà vu as you move from track to track. My lone complaint is that Gonzales’ technique is a bit imprecise at times, which blurs the notes when they should be clearly-etched. He tries his best, bless his heart, but occasionally slurs too much. Although the third track, Bobby Land, has an almost identical tempo and rhythm as Mister Snacky, the melodic line and the harmonic base are more complex. Yet this is always a danger with Latin jazz albums, because the rhythm is so similar from track to track, one must constantly try to vary other elements within the compositions in order to avoid sameness.

Interestingly, the one bona-fide Puente tribute, Those Venetian Blinds, has a more varied beat, sounding more like a samba than the preceding three tracks. Clutch the Hutch is also in a different tempo, and has a more complex line, played beautifully by Gonzalez and the leader. Perhaps the one failing of this album is its unvaried volume and emotional level; they stay within the confines of “relaxed Latin jazz” so much that, after a while, one begins to blur the music in one’s mind.

Overall, then, a pleasant, low-key album of Latin jazz, beautifully crafted and good for summertime listening.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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