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Tiempo Libre

Billings Gazette

Weekly Webb: Join in the Cuban Dance Party at the ABT

Billings Gazette

Friday, April 29, 2011

by Jaci Webb

Jorge Gomez and his group Tiempo Libre may not be household names in Billings. But after they throw their Cuban dance party at the Alberta Bair Theater twice on May 3, they’re hoping to be.

“Without music, it is not possible to be a Cuban,” Gomez said in a recent telephone interview.

Gomez is music director and pianist in Tiempo Libre, a group he helped found in 2000 in Miami. All seven members were classically trained in their native Cuba, studying for as many as 15 years at the National School of Art, a highly competitive conservatory in Cuba. By day, they studied jazz and classical stylings on their instruments. At night, they climbed up on the rooftops, using tinfoil as makeshift antennas for their radios, and listened to the forbidden sounds of American rock and hip-hop. American radio is still banned in Cuba.

“Every day, we’d go to school and say, ‘This is the best thing.’ Every night, we made a party with the American music. Now, we are in the U.S. trying to listen to Cuban music,” Gomez said.

The three-time Grammy-nominated group has recorded several interesting projects over the years, including “Bach in Havana” where the musicians explored a wide range of Cuban music forms and rhythms based on Bach compositions. In Bach, Tiempo Libre found a kindred spirit — a composer who wrote music in both secular and spiritual traditions.

Their latest effort, “My Secret Radio,” serves up what the band calls its “Afro-Cuban love letter to the music heard on American radio stations.” It pairs hip-hop, funk, ska and rap in a stew that is distinctively Cuban in flavor.

The basis of Tiempo Libre’s music is timba, a fiery combination of Latin jazz and traditional Cuba “son.” Some call it Cuban salsa music. They’ve performed around the globe, from Australia to Greece and Israel. In the U.S., they’ve performed at the Hollywood Bowl, New York’s Lincoln Center, and on “Dancing with the Stars.”

The musicians include Gomez at the keyboard, as well as a trumpet, sax, electric bass, conga, drum, cello and a vocalist. They all dance and holler on occasion.

When they perform next week at the ABT, Gomez offered this advice: Don’t sit quietly. The musicians will be offended if there isn’t some hip shaking going on. Gomez’s voice grew in intensity when he mentioned the “Cuba party” he’d bring to town.

“We play some jazz and classical and if they react in a good way, we give them the Cuban thing,” Gomez said. “We’re going to have a Cuba party. That’s the reason we play, there is no inhibition. We want you to come sing with us and play with us.”

The gauntlet is thrown, Billings. Join in the Cuban party or forever regret it.

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