One of the neat things about being a journalist covering arts and cultural happenings is the opportunity it provides to intersect with emerging or rising talents. In the case of this article for El Perico I got to speak with Jorge Gomez, the leader of the breakout Latin band Tiempo Libre, who kick off this season’s Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing series in Omaha. The timba-jazz infused, Miami-based group performs July 7, and the series featuring regional and national jazz acts runs through August 11. If you haven’t heard of Tiempo Libre, as I hadn’t, you’ll soon learn why you should take notice in the space of my short article. First of all, the group has only been together 10 years and yet they’ve already earned three Grammy nominations. They’e opened for and collaborated with some world class artists. Their music draws from many different sources and influences. These musicians are highly skilled and steeped in a classical foundation. They are also inventive enough to blend their native Cuban rhythms with all manner of musical styles. And they have a great story of what fired their imaginations in Cuba and of living out their dream now as a headline act around the world.
Tiempo Libre Kicks Off Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing in Omaha
by Leo Adam Biga
As soon to be published in El Perico
Growing up in Cuba members of the hot Miami-based Latin band, Tiempo Libre, studied classical music at Havana conservatories. Popular music, especially American, but even their native timba, was deemed subversive and thus forbidden. Hungry for what they were denied, the players clambered atop roofs at night with homemade antennas to pick up faint Miami radio broadcasts.
The staticky sounds of Michael Jackson, Chaka Chan, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Manhattan Transfer and Earth Wind and Fire filled the tropical air. “It was fuel for our dreams. It opened a new door for us,” says Jorge Gomez, Tiempo Libre lead vocalist, keyboardist and musical director. “We listened, we recorded and during the day we put the music on and everybody in the neighborhood came to my house. We danced and sang and played dominos, everything. It was a new hope for us.”
Today, Gomez and his Grammy-nominated bandmates are touting their new Afro-Cuban fusion album, My Secret Radio, and its celebration of those clandestine raves. Fresh from performing at an Italian music festival, Tiempo Libre opens the Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing season Thursday. Their pulsating rhythms begin at 7 p.m. at Turner Park (31st and Dodge Streets).
The band describes their gigs as parties rather than concerts, says Gomez, “because by the end of the show everybody’s going to be singing and dancing with us. It happens all the time, and that’s the whole idea — to have fun. It’s all about the energy people are going to feel. That’s the best reason to play music .”
The free performance kicks off the weekly series that runs through August 11.
This is Tiempo Libre’s first Omaha show but the group’s well known for breakout recordings on Sony Masterworks and high profile appearances on Dancing with the Stars and the Tonight Show and at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Their genre busting work includes collaborations with classical artists Sir James Galway and Joshua Bell and Venezuelan composer Ricardo Lorenz.
Formed a year before, Tiempo Libre only came together after its seven members separately fled Cuba. Their individual journeys included long stays in other countries before their paths merged again in 2000 in Miami. They were all working with different artists then “and in our free time we came together to make the band, ” says Gomez, hence the name Tiempo Libre or “free time.”
He’s proud the band has disproved predictions timba cannot thrive outside Cuban-centric Miami. “It’s fantastic the way people respond to it,” he says. Playing before enthusiastic audiences around the world, he says, “it’s incredible how beautiful the music can be between people who don’t even speak the same language.” By mixing timba with other styles, Tiempo Libre breaks down artificial barriers, as in the live orchestra work Rumba Sinfonica and the album Bach in Havana.
“Timba style is a mix between jazz and Cuban music. For example, if you put Buena Vista Social Club with Chic Corea, that’s timba style,” he says. “The harmony’s going to be deeper in the jazz roots but the rhythm is going to be, of course, Cuban rhythms, like rumba, ch-cha-cha, bolero. We play a mix of everything — timba, jazz, classical.”
Gomez says as the band’s exposed to ever more diverse musical influences, the more there is to blend with Cuban rhythms, including a new Placido Domingo Jr. album they’re collaborating on.
“We are living our dream playing all the music, all the mix that’s in there, adding a lot of Cuban flavor.”
Noted for their rigorous musicianship, yet free-spirited manner, Gomez says, “the way we’re playing now is so different from the beginning. We feel so secure. Now it’s all about how to enjoy yourself and transmit that energy to everybody around you. It’s unbelievable, the sensation. It’s a beautiful life.”
Now that Cuba’s more free, Gomez expects Tiempo Libre will perform back home.
“That’s part of our dream, too,” he says. “We want to play there in our neighborhood, for our friends.”
And perhaps inspire others to live their dreams. “Exactly, that’s the idea,” he says.
Jazz on the Green features other Latin-style bands this summer, including Incendio on July 14.
- Tiempo Libre’s “My Secret Radio” (theworld.org)
- Cuban Music Icon, Grammy Award Winner Pablo Milanés to Perform in Miami at the American Airlines Arena (thecubanartproject.com)
- The Bay Citizen: A Havana Connection Infuses the Music Scene (nytimes.com)
- Omaha Address by Cuban Archbishop Jaime Ortega Sounds Hopeful Message that Repression in Cuba is Lifting (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- A Rich Music History Long Untold is Revealed and Celebrated at the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Home Girl Karrin Allyson Gets Her Jazz Thing On (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Enchantress “LadyMac” Gets Down (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Camille Metoyer Moten, A Singer for All Seasons (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Luigi’s Legacy, The Late Omaha Jazz Artist Luigi Waites Fondly Remembered (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)