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Tiempo Libre

The Day

Grammy-winning Tiempo Libre brings its tropical rhythms to Conn College

The Day

Thursday, October 14, 2010

by Rick Koster

You don't see Miami's Tiempo Libre performing too close to any cemeteries. There's the very real fear the band's incredibly infectious blend of tropical rhythms and hot jazz - called Timba - will cause the dead to rise and dance into the streets.
Fortunately, Palmer Auditorium at Connecticut College in New London is safe. That's where Tiempo Libre performs Saturday.
The band is comprised of several friends who studied at Cuba's La ENA music conservatory. Eventually, each made his way to Miami and managed to reconnect. In 2001, Tiempo Libre - Spanish for "free time" - formed, and their debut album a year later, "Arroz Con Mango," earned their first Grammy.
Jorge Gomez, the band's pianist/arranger, says there was never any preconceived plan that they would play together after conservatory - or even that they would leave the country.
By phone from Miami, he says, "When we were in school, we had the support of the Soviet Union. When that support was gone, it was very hard for the Cuban people. (We all) left for a different country - Italy, Germany, Brazil, Guatamala … wherever you could personally go to get out."
Gomez toiled in Miami at menial jobs, earning a name for himself on the music scene. Over time, his old pals from conservatory found each other by playing with established artists like Arturo Sandoval.
"Miami is Little Cuba," he says. "... You start meeting people who know other people and it's like, 'My God, you're here!' The phone calls were like a networking system."
Now, after three Grammy awards, five albums, world tours and appearances in the Lincoln Center, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and on Conan O'Brien, Tiempo Libre is a global force seemingly seducing the non-Latin-music world one crowd at a time.
On their latest CD, "Bach in Havana," they reimagine the classical master's works in spectacular fashion.
"It was time for this to happen," says Gomez, who was exposed to Bach in childhood through his classical pianist father. "The musical DNA of the world is broadening, and this seemed like a natural connection."

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