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Tiempo Libre

Jazz Police

Havana Bacchanal

Jazz Police

Monday, August 10, 2009

by Andrea Canter

Now based in Miami, the energetic musicians of Tiempo Libre came from all corners of Cuba, converging at the classical conservatory La ENA in Havana. TL musical director/keyboardist Jorge Gomez notes that, growing up in a family that revered classical music, “there was no greater god than J.S. Bach.” Yet Gomez and his cohorts spent their evenings seeking the inspiration of Afro-Cuban traditions, forbidden at La ENA but prevalent throughout the streets and clubs of Havana. Today, Bach and bata find peace together in the music of Tiempo Libre, exemplified in their two new releases on Sony.

O’Reilly Street (2008, Sony BMG)

It makes as much sense that Tiempo Libre joined forces with an Irish classical flautist (James Galway) as to title the effort O’Reilly Street, a main artery in Old Havana that celebrates the nation’s long-standing Irish community. Galway wanted to reach back to the 70s and the flute/jazz piano suites of Claude Bolling, but sought to bring new life to the once-popular arrangements. Hearing the rhythms and high-energy of Tiempo Libre, Galway recognized the potential for a special collaboration. The first six tracks reflect the reconsideration of Bolling’s popular Suites for Flute and Jazz Piano that featured the legendary Jean Pierre Rampal. Perhaps no one on this planet will match Rampal’s virtuosity, but Galway is a worthy interpreter of what here might be dubbed Cuban Baroque. Highlights are difficult to separate from the whole, but consider the almost call-and-response sequence between Gomez and Galway on “Baroque and Blue”; the lilt of “Irlandaise” which floats like a Celtic folksong buoyed by soft congas; the acrobatic rhythmic drive of “Veloce” that somehow conjures a great American swing standard. Additional tracks include Bach’s famed Badinerie from “Orchestral Suite in B Minor,” a darkly energetic arrangement by Gomez featuring bubbling electric bass from Tebelio Fonte.  

Bach in Havana (2009, Sony Classical)

On Bach in Havana, Tiempo Libre (sans Galway) takes greater liberties with Johann Sebastian, the basic melody and harmony given Cuban rhythms, as in fugue meets clavé, minuet meets montuno. Very special guests elevate the already-superb musicianship of the expanded Tiempo Libre, including Paquito D’Rivera on alto and clarinet and Yosvany Terry on shekere and alto. Your ears and feet cha-cha to “Sonata in D” (“Fuga”); “Prelude (now ‘Clavé’) in C Minor” transforms into the rhumba’s guaguanco; “Cello Suite No.1” emerges as a danzon (“Baquetteo con Bajo”). One of the most lovely, “Orchestral Suite in D Major,” is reinvented as “Air on a G String,” now a bolero featuring gorgeous piano from music director Gomez and Paquito’s songful alto. And anyone who once studied piano, even for just a few years, will take delight in the arrangement of the familiar “Minuet in G,” now a guaguanco highlighted by Yosvany Terry on alto, Cristobal Ferrer Garcia on trumpet, and Joaquin “El Kid” Diaz on vocals, the familiar 3/4 shifted to 4/4.  
If classical conservatory La ENA continues to ban traditional Afro-Cuban music, then hopefully the elite of Havana’s next generation of musicians will follow the lead of Tiempo Libre, and take to the streets to find that very special touchpoint where European and Latin cultures collide. The result seems to be a melding of the best of both worlds.

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