Some 30 years ago I could often be found at the Half Moon in Putney on a Sunday lunchtime, when a band could be found playing for fun and beer. Said band was based around Steve Waller (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), Pete Stroud (Roger Chapman, Toyah) and Glen LeFleur (Gerry Rafferty), but other musicians would come and take part as well and one that seemed to be there most weeks was John “Poli” Palmer (Family) and his vibraphone. The instrument fascinated me as I didn’t know anyone else who played one, and it came across as a cross between a keyboard and a glockenspiel in the hands of someone who really knows what they are doing.
That is definitely the case here with Mike Freeman, who is paying tribute to two of the giants of the instrument in Tito Puente and Bobby Hutcherson. When Tito Puente rolled in his vibes during the early days of the Palladium, people would say, “Here comes Tito with those venetian blinds!”— referring to the strung-together bars of the instrument. Four of the tracks on this recording were written for Puente: “Those Venetian Blinds,” “Mambo Kings,” “Night Crawlers,” and “Qué Tal Tío” (What’s Up Uncle) while another three go out to the late vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson: “Clutch the Hutch,” “Bobby Land,” and “House of Vibes.” Freeman has put together a group where the rhythm section lay a gentle rhythm, conga provides a strong Latin base, while trumpeter Guido Gonzalez and Freeman support each other as they take turn leading the melody.
The result is an incredibly relaxed album which feels totally at home in the early evening rain-soaked streets of Havana, at least that is how I “see” this in my mind. Skilful with a high note density, yet always melodic and full of space, this is luscious.