Sitting in the lounge of Yoshi's Jazz House in Oakland, Jorge Gomez--the keyboardist and musical director of Tiempo Libre--looks relaxed. The band is on. Since the release of its latest album, Bach in Havana (Sony Classical), the group is bouncing across the U.S. on a hectic touring schedule designed to showcase a genre-bounding effort that fuses the music of classical giant Johan Sebastian Bach with Cuban music.
Twice nominated for a Latin Grammy Award, Tiempo Libre has advanced its career by working hard at its craft. Founded in 2001, the group has established itself as a major purveyor of timba, the youthful Cuban music that allegedly emerged in the 1990s as a byproduct of the 1970s songo movement. But this new album marries classical with Cuban for a defying masterwork that re-invents Bach for a new generation.
Tiempo Libre has also hooked up with Cafe Bustelo, which has placed the group's image on their expresso coffee cans to help with the promotion of Bach in Havana. The following interview with Jorge Gomez was conducted on June 18, 2009, at Yoshi's in Oakland, while the group was making its third appearance at the aforesaid California venue.
Chuy Varela: Congrats on the success of the band! What I like about Tiempo Libre is the fusion you guys have created of Cuban music with jazz and pop, and now with classical music. Talk about those mixtures and influences.
Jorge Gomez: Our new record is called Bach in Havana and is a reflection of ourselves as musicians. When we started studying music in Cuba, we all played the classical music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Liszt. That's what we did during the day in school. At night, we would hit the streets and participate in the rumba jams, playing bongo, conga and other percussion on any given street. On this album, we are mixing all those stormy nights of guaguanco.
CV: I cannot believe you found the clave in Bach.
JG: I like to say that Bach is the DNA of music around the world. He was a genius. There isn't a single Bach piece that is disliked by anyone who has ever listened to his work. He basically worked the math, unlike Shubert and other composers, who composed their music in 3/4 or 15/8, on which it is very difficult to place Cuban rhythms. Bach's music has that 4/4 characteristic. So I played around with Bach melodies to find which one would fit into the idioms of chachacha, danzon, conga and guaguanco.
CV: I like the track titled Tu...