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Tiempo Libre

Bloomberg

Cuban Band Tiempo Libre Adds ’Timba’ Twist to Bach Compositions

Bloomberg

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

by Patrick Cole

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- If Bach were alive, he’d flip that periwig to hear one of his neat fugues reworked by the congas, fiery vocals and noisy brass section of a Latin band.

Jorge Gomez, the leader of the Miami-based Cuban group Tiempo Libre, thinks Bach might even hit the dance floor on hearing the ensemble’s latest release, “Bach in Havana” (Sony Masterworks). The recording, a Cuban take on almost a dozen of the maestro’s works, was a way to combine the groups’ two musical loves, classical and Latin.

“We started studying classical music 15 years ago, and Bach was the first composer that we learned,” Gomez, 38 and a Havana native, said in a recent interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters before leaving for a recording session with violinist Joshua Bell. “By day we play classical music, by night we play Afro-Cuban rhythms, so now we’re mixing both worlds.”

Twice nominated for a Grammy, the group has been on a U.S. and Canadian tour since the record’s May release. The band makes a stop tonight at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Manhattan’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The seven-man ensemble comprises: Gomez on piano, vocalist Joaquin (“El Kid”) Diaz, bassist Tebelio Fonte, Luis Beltran Castillo on saxophone and flute, Leandro Gonzalez handling the congas, Cristobal Ferrer Garcia on trumpet and Hilario Bell on drums.

‘Tu Conga Bach’

Tiempo Libre brings its mastery of timba, a mixture of Cuban music, salsa, jazz and rock, to the Bach compositions. “Tu Conga Bach,” a radical reworking of the C Minor Fugue from “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1,” sounds like high-voltage salsa.

The album also includes numbers inspired by the C Major and D Major preludes, the “Mass in B Minor” and other works by the 18th-century composer.

At Miami’s La Casa de Tula nightclub a few weeks ago, the band’s show became a mini-carnival as the crowd danced and clapped to their songs.

“When we play, we don’t want to just play music, we want to give energy and people receive that,” Gomez said. “People feel happy, so they stand up and sing with us.”

Gomez learned music on an 80-year-old piano during his childhood in Havana. He performed in orchestras as a teenager, and then enrolled in Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Arte, where he and the other band members studied classical music.

“If they caught you playing jazz or Cuban rhythms, they’d throw you out of the school,” he said.

Miami Reunion

At the time Gomez was studying, Cubans weren’t allowed to listen to U.S. music. To be in a freer musical environment, he moved to Guatemala and worked as a record producer and performer. He came to Miami in 2000 and reunited with Cuban friends and musicians to fulfill his dream of creating a timba band.

“We were all playing with different artists like Celia Cruz,” he said, “but we said to ourselves we need to play timba music, so we started the band. Right now, this recording is our life.”

Tiempo Libre performs tonight at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Broadway and 60th Street in Manhattan at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Information: +1-212-258-9595 or http://www.jalc.org/dccc. The Tiempo Libre tour continues through mid-August with stops in Syracuse, New York; Lenox, Massachusetts; Minneapolis; Highland Park, Illinois; and Columbus, Ohio.


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