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Tiempo Libre

VailDaily

'The rhythm I carry inside'

VailDaily

Sunday, July 15, 2012

by Randy Wyrick

Somewhere in heaven, Bach is dancing and laughing.

Tiempo Libre is a seven-piece Cuban band whose members have so much energy they make the Little Engine That Could seem like a total drudge.

They pumped Bach full of high-octane rhythm, called it "Bach in Havana" and earned three Grammy nominations. They're featuring that and other music during Monday's performances.

"This is a party," said Jorge Gomez, the band's musical director.

They'll play classical music in the Cuban style. You don't need to know anything new; they'll teach you.

"When we started the band, we started with Cuban rhythms, then classical music, then musical theater," Gomez said. "Every day is something different with Tiempo Libre."

Bach is huge in Havana. Bach with a Cuban rhythm is new for us but not for them.

"We do this all the time," Gomez said. "Bach's music is very easy to put Cuban rhythm to his music. Chopin, Tchaikovsky and several others - not so much. Mozart is very easy."

As good as their music is, their story is better.

All seven Tiempo Libre members fled Castro's Cuba any way they could, seeking freedom in the United States.

"For most of the people, it's difficult to immigrate. If you're playing in a band and you go to Spain or somewhere, you don't go back," Gomez said.

Gomez was in the Cuban army and asked his commanding officer if he could go to Guatemala to visit his family. When he finally received permission, Gomez left and never went back. His father is Spanish, so he got a Spanish passport while he was in Guatemala and immigrated to the U.S.

He landed in Miami, where Cuban music floats on the breeze.

He had studied music for 15 years and missed it. He started playing around the Miami area and decided to start his own band. When Gomez happened across one of the guys he went to music school with, it was an emotional reunion.

"Neither of us could believe the other was here in the America," Gomez said.

They started bouncing names back and forth and came up with seven guys whom they'd played and studied music with in Cuba.

"We'd name some of our friends and say, 'Hey, he's here, too!'" Gomez said.

They started playing together in their free time, and the magic was immediate.

Tiempo Libre creates a huge sound for such a small group.

"It's very difficult to play Cuban with this number of people. Cuban bands usually have 16 to 18 people. We're doing the work of two or three musicians," Gomez said.

For 10 years, they've played everything, everywhere - houses, concert halls, indoors, outdoors.

"It's easy to find good players, but it's not easy to find good people who are professional musicians who show up on time ready to work," Gomez said.

It's paying off. They've earned three Grammy nominations, performed on NPR, at The Hollywood Bowl and at Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as TV's "The Tonight Show" and "Dancing with the Stars."

The 2009 "Bach in Havana" album earned the group its third Grammy nomination. They use Bach as a starting point and explore a wide range of Cuban music.

The Cuban government forbade its citizens to listen to American radio when the members of Tiempo Libre were growing up in Cuba. But, like teenagers everywhere, that which was forbidden was what they most desired.

They fashioned antennas out of salvaged aluminum foil and clothes hangers and snuck onto rooftops at night to tune into the music from Miami, just 90 miles away.

They left Cuba, landed in America and still know who they are.

"No matter where I am, I am Cuban by birth. I am the rhythm I carry inside me," Gomez said. "Every record we make, every concert we play seems like a gift. "

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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