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Tiempo Libre unites two musical worlds into a unique mix: 'Bach in Havana'

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Sony Masterworks announces the signing of two-time Grammy nominated Miami-based Cuban music group, Tiempo Libre, to an exclusive contract and will release Bach in Havana. Uniting the two musical worlds of the band's Cuban childhoods, the CD connects the rhythm and sensibilities of Afro-Cuban music with the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach and features guest tracks by the Cuban legend Paquito D'Rivera and the Cuban born sax player Yosvany Terry. Multi Grammy winner Steve Epstein (Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Placido Domingo) produced the CD with Jorge Gomez as co-producer.

"Tiempo Libre is a major signing for Sony Masterworks and represents our commitment to creativity without boundaries," commented Alex Miller, General Manager of Sony Masterworks/Victor Label. "With their unique mix of traditional Afro-Cuban influences and sophisticated jazz harmonies, the conservatory-trained group brings audiences out of their seats on to the dance floor wherever they perform. We are very excited about Bach in Havana and the extensive tour planned in support of this extraordinary release."

An album uniting Afro-Cuban jazz and the music of Bach might seem a departure for these seven musicians, named "Best Latin Band 2008" by the Miami New Times and heralded worldwide for their sizzling performances of timba, an irresistible, dance-inducing mix of high-voltage Latin jazz and the seductive rhythms of son. In fact it's a true reflection of their "double" lives in Cuba which consisted of Bach by day and Afro-Cuban music by night. Tiempo Libre's members studied classical music at Havana's premiere conservatory, La ENA, the "Juilliard School" of Cuba. In the evenings they played timba and Latin jazz. They also came together to perform rumba and in tambores, music forbidden at La ENA because of its Afro-Cuban roots. (Tambores are the religious ceremonies of the Afro-Cuban religion, Santera, centered around the playing of the sacred bata drums.) In Bach, Tiempo Libre found a kindred spirit: a composer who wrote music in both the secular and the spiritual traditions.

Gomez, who created the arrangements for Bach In Havana, remembers countless hours listening to his father, one of Cuba's most prominent classical pianists, practicing the Preludes and Fugues of the Well Tempered Clavier late into the night. The C Major and C Minor Preludes and Fugues from the first book of The Well Tempered Clavier, which his father taught him, make their appearance on the new disc...with a twist.

"Some of my most indelible memories of Cuba are of coming home from a rumba or tambor, with those rhythms in my head and then drifting off to sleep as my father played Bach downstairs. I suppose that it was inevitable that the two would eventually merge creatively," explains Gomez, Tiempo Libre's founder and musical arranger. "What's interesting to me is that we revere Bach for his musical genius. But the fact that he was composing works for his contemporaries as a 'popular' artist while also creating deeply religious compositions, and that he was fascinated with dance rhythms, makes him an even more powerful inspiration for me," adds Gomez.

In this highly inventive disc, Gomez takes Bach as a starting point from which to explore a wide range of Cuban music forms and rhythms. In Tu Conga, the theme of the C minor Fugue, BWV 847, serves as a clarion call to gear up one of the most joyous of Cuban dance forms – and over which Gomez layers bass drum, cowbells, congas, sheker, piano, bass, brass and vocals – in a wild celebration of polyrhythms. In contrast, the exquisite theme of Air on a G String, is played more or less straight up, but in the form of a bolero, featuring the soulful solo sax sounds of Paquito D'Rivera. The famous Minuet in G, also retains its melodic identity (with sax solos by Yosvany Terry), but the normal meter of a minuet is transformed into guaguanc a 4/4 rhythm underscored by clave and congas, from the earthy dances of Cuban rumba. The bright Gavotte from the G Major French Suite is re-imagined in the form of traditional Cuban son – and includes a delicious clarinet solo from Paquito D'Rivera. After an incredible parallel musical journey through Cuba and Bach, the disc concludes with a summing up, a meditation invoked by the opening of the Kyrie from the B Minor Mass. Says Gomez of this concluding work: "...for me, the Kyrie is the most profoundly beautiful and deeply moving music ever created, a door opening into an unseen realm. As I worked late into the nights, I felt humbled by it. Calling on the powers of the bata, this was my offering to Bach – and to the orishas." (Note: Orishas are the deities of Santera, the Afro-Cuban religion.)

Tiempo Libre's members have come a long way from their childhood days when they went to bed knowing they could be arrested for listening to American music. Individually, they left everyone and everything behind to flee to the land of opportunity – and found just that. In Miami they came together to play music whenever they had free time off from (hence the name Tiempo Libre) working with legendary artists like Albita, Cachao, Arturo Sandoval and Roberto Torres. Against predictions that a broad international audience would not embrace the timba music native to their homeland, they formed their group in 2001 with the mission to proudly share their musical heritage through their concerts, workshops, master classes – with as wide an audience as possible, reinterpreting and reinvigorating traditional Cuban music with a youthful, modern sound and forging a new style incorporating their Afro-Cuban roots and their new American experience. 

Not only did they land a record deal and management, but two consecutive Grammy nominations (Arroz Con Mango and Lo Que Esperabas, both on the Shanachie label) and tours which take them around the globe, they also found themselves starring in a musical production about their collective life experiences which ran at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center. They even were hand-picked by legendary flutist Sir James Galway to perform and arrange his RCA Red Seal CD O'Reilly Street.

Tiempo Libre's success has been noted by many publications including CNN.com who surmised: "Rooted in the classics and driven by a Havana tradition, these musicians are firming up a distinctive voice of the Cuban diaspora, and it's inevitably exuberant, surging with determination, the sound a fast-rising tide of adamant pride." 

Born from a land where cultures collide and worlds merge, the music of Cuba is mysterious and seductive, earthly and otherworldly, intoxicating and irresistible. Now with Bach In Havana, Tiempo Libre's members continue to simultaneously walk in two distinct worlds and celebrate the universality of music.

RCA Red Seal, Sony Classical, deutsche harmonia mundi, Masterworks Broadway and Masterworks Jazz are labels of Sony Masterworks. For e-mail updates and information regarding RCA Red Seal, Sony Classical, RCA deutsche harmonia mundi, Masterworks Broadway and Masterworks Jazz artists, promotions, tours and repertoire, please visit www.sonymasterworks.com.