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Tiempo Libre

Midland Daily News

Tiempo Libre: Latin group delivers great MATRIX show

Midland Daily News

Friday, June 20, 2014

by Roger Bryant

The talented members of Tiempo Libre brought their high-energy Latin music to MATRIX:MIDLAND Thursday, filling Dow Gardens with beguiling rhythms.

In a hot 90-minute set on a cool evening, the seven members of the Grammy-nominated ensemble displayed flawless technique and tremendous charisma. The Miami-based group, most of whom met while receiving classical music training in their native Cuba, cited influences from bluesy jazz to Bach to Desi Arnaz.

From the opening number — a jazz-influenced instrumental — Tiempo Libre performed with a refreshing verve and freedom. Every member of the group got his turn in the spotlight, with drummer Israel Morales Figueroa being particularly prominent in the first song.

While Jorge Gomez, the group’s musical director and pianist, did most of the talking and introduced some of the selections, lead vocalist Xavier Mili was the center of attention for much of the show. His sinuous, sensuous dancing, expert vocals, winning smile and apparently boundless energy were captivating.

Mili came out into the crowd a few times and even made his way through the crowd to the outdoor dance floor, which might have been better placed right in front of the stage instead.

The dance floor, where lessons had been given before the show, was mostly filled through much of the performance. Mili at one point motioned for the dancers to come closer to the stage, to no avail. If the dancing had been more visible to all, it might have enlivened the rest of the crowd who, while certainly swaying and toe-tapping in their lawn chairs, seemed less than engaged.

Gomez, Mili and company tried their best to involve the audience, trying a sing-along for the iconic 1960s tune “Guantanamera.” They required the crowd to learn the familiar two words of the chorus (“Guantanamera … Guajira Guantanamera …”), and then played the song at a blistering pace. For this number, Mili again came into the audience, this time accompanied by trumpeter Raul Rodriguez.

The band showed its skill at traditional jazz with a bluesy tune that they then performed again, this time “Cuban-style,” with congas, percussion and a sassy trumpet. Saxophonist Luis Beltran Castillo was incredible as he was throughout the show.

The other members of the band are Wilvi Rodriguez on bass and Leandro Gonzalez on congas.

Other tunes included “Lo Mio Primero” from the CD “My Secret Radio,” and “El Cuarto de Tula,” which is on the group’s “Timbiando” disc. The second song was performed in both traditional Cuban “son” style and in the faster Afro-Cuban “timba” style.

A few numbers were derived from Bach – the “Minuet in G” and a bolero version of “Air on a G String” among them. These songs demonstrated Tiempo Libre’s creativity, skill and sense of humor. Who knew Bach was so adaptable to Latin rhythms?

The first of two “last songs” saw Mili once again head to the dance floor, this time via a conga line, which Gomez said combined Arnaz and Bach.

The only encore had most of the audience on its feet – which perhaps would have been a good idea for the whole show. Nonetheless, Tiempo Libre was one of the most exciting and dynamic MATRIX acts ever, and it is to be hoped they’ll be back.