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Timba sound a Cuban export no one can object to

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The triple Grammy-nominated band Tiempo Libre plays the Cuban-originated timba sound. And it’s going to play the music tonight at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.

Timba, said Jorge Gómez, the band’s pianist and musical director, is a mix of salsa and jazz.

“And the instrumentation in timba is different than salsa,” Gómez said in a phone interview from his home in Miami.

Tiempo Libre
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 San Francisco, Santa Fe
HOW MUCH: $12, $28, $36 and $42 by calling 505-982-1890, at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival box office in the New Mexico Museum of Art, by visiting www.sfcmf.org or at the door

“In salsa there’s the upright bass. In timba, we have the electric bass. Salsa has the timbales and timba has timbales and the whole drum set. Salsa has one piano. Timba has piano and electric keyboard.”

There are other differences in the extent to which the musicians improvise. In salsa, the flutist or the trombonist improvises. In timba everybody does.

“In that respect, it’s more like jazz,” Gómez said.

“Ours is the first timba band that formed in the United States, but there were a lot of bands that came from Cuba playing timba.”

Truth be told, Tiempo Libre goes beyond merging salsa and jazz. It wraps itself around classical music.

“We all grew up together studying at the National School of the Arts (in Havana). It’s like the Juilliard School,” Gómez said, referring to the prestigious classical music school in New York City.

In the Santa Fe concert, patrons will hear a J.S. Bach sonata played like a cha-cha-cha or a minuet as a guaguancó, which is a Cuban rhumbalike rhythm.

The band’s 2009 album, “Bach in Havana,” fused Bach melodies with Afro-Cuban rhythms. The CD, which featured Paquito D’Rivera on several tracks, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Tropical Latin category.

Tiempo Libre’s latest timba album, “My Secret Radio,” was released last year. The album title refers to the 1970s when the Cuban government jammed American radio broadcasts to the island. So Cubans, craving American music of all stripes, improvised.

“I stayed up to 1 a.m. and set up an antenna on my roof to get the radio signal from Miami,” Gómez recalled. Sometimes he’d record Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder or Chick Corea on homemade cassettes.

“The next day we’d have a party in the house. Everybody would say, ‘Who’s that? Who’s that?’ I said, ‘Don’t ask me. Just listen to the music,’ ” he remembered saying.

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