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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Symphony, Cuban septet getting ready to rumba

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The members of Tiempo Libre, from front to back, are Jorge Gomez, Luis Beltran Castillo, Ra l Rodr guez Hernandez,
Joaquin Diaz, Tebelio Fonte Pedraja, Leandro Gonzalez, and Hilario Bell.
The members of Tiempo Libre, from front to back, are Jorge Gomez, Luis Beltran Castillo, Ra l Rodr guez Hernandez, Joaquin Diaz, Tebelio Fonte Pedraja, Leandro Gonzalez, and Hilario Bell.
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The Toledo Symphony has salsa on the menu tomorrow but don t even think about corn chips.

This salsa is musical, the effervescent, rhythmic music of Cuba, birthplace of seven musicians who call themselves Tiempo Libre.

Twice nominated for Grammy awards, the band its name means Free Time will make its Toledo debut at 8 p.m. in the Peristyle with a program combining its signature Latin sound with a bold new work, Rumba Sinfonico, by Venezuelan composer Richardo Lorenz to be performed by the Toledo Symphony and the Miami group.

To Jorge Gomez, founder and director of the Miami-based septet, the driving rhythms, dynamic blasts of brass, and playful lyrics of the songs Tiempo Libre performs are all about emotion.

But then, what music isn t?

Still, when Gomez and his cohorts Joaquin Diaz, vocals; Raul Rodriguez Hernandez, keyboards; Leandro Gonzalez, congas; Tebelio Tony Fonte Pedraja, bass; Luis Beltran Castillo, sax and flute; and Hilario Bell, drums hit the first notes of a number the reaction is physical. And usually irresistible.

Sometimes, you play only to see people dancing, says Gomez, who started the group in 2001. With timba, it s a blast for us.

Timba is the more precise term for Tiempo s signature sound, a blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms, Cuban dance music called son, and Latin jazz.

Gomez s scores and arrangements are complex and richly textured. Band members memorize them to enhance the sense of spontaneity in performance.

If you have the music in your head, you can dance, you can laugh while you perform it, he says.

The Toledo Symphony hopes there will be dancing in the aisles during the second half of the concert. To encourage that, it s offering free salsa lessons by instructors from the Dance Clinic at 6 p.m. tomorrow in the Monroe Street lobby of the Peristyle.

Still, to hear Tiempo Libre, you might not guess the substantial classical background shared by every member.

In Cuba, everybody studies classical music for 15 years, says Gomez, whose phenomenal keyboard skills are showcased in the latest CD release by the band: O Reilly Street.

Just released Monday, it s an innovative hybrid featuring Sir James Galway, the flute phenomenon, plus Gomez, Gonzalez, Fonte, and Bell.

The playlist includes revamped cuts from Claude Bolling s original Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, some original Gomez pieces, and an amazing version of a movement from J.S. Bach s Suite No. 2 in B Minor.

Long a fan of Galway s flute artistry, Gomez sought the musician out after concerts and they became friends. He told me, We need to do something together, said Gomez. Since both Galway and Tiempo are BMG artists, making the connections was not difficult, although Gomez confesses he was a bit intimidated at first by the Irish flutist s reputation.

Another meeting brought Gomez into the orbit of Lorenz, a professor of composition at Michigan State University who has been composer-in-residence for symphonies in Chicago and Billings, Mont., and is known for his innovative instrumentation and his ability to blend many musical traditions in a single piece.

Rumba Sinfonica was written for Tiempo Libre with a commission from orchestras in Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, and Boca Raton, Fla.

I needed a specific band to write it for, Lorenz said from East Lansing. The reason this works is the collaboration with a band that is very tight. Latin music can get very generic. What helped me to focus the material was listening to the particular style of this band.

Using the standard compositional form of concerto grosso, Lorenz crafted musical dialogue. I call it this conversation between a small group and a large orchestra, he explained. Lorenz plans to attend tomorrow s concert.

Resident conductor Chelsea Tipton II will conduct the Toledo Symphony in the local premiere and other Latin classical works.

Then, it will be time for timba.

Tiempo Libre appears with the Toledo Symphony at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Peristyle of the Toledo Museum of Art. Tickets are $30 and include dance lessons.

Information: www.toledosymphony.com or 419-246-8000.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com



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