Title - 'Bach in Havana' (Sony Classical)
Artist - Tiempo Libre
'Cuban band goes Bach to its roots!'
You would think that fusing the classical music of Johann Sebastian Bach with the wildly joyful rhythms of Cuban music might be an idea so outrageous that it would never get passed the planning stage. After all, Bach was German, lived over 300 years ago and was famous for his Baroque compositions. I’m guessing that there probably wasn’t a lot of salsa in Weimar where Bach grew up and lived. However, it is not completely unheard of for Bach’s work to be performed by contemporary artists in an up-to-date manner. Probably the most famous of these is the French vocal group The Swingle Singers; furthermore, Jacques Loussier, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Walter (Wendy) Carlos, amongst others, have all updated and modernised the great man’s work.
Now we have acclaimed Cuban group Tiempo Libre with their new CD Bach in Havana to add to the list of Bach interpreters. Formed in 2001, Tiempo Libre are a two-time Grammy nominated Cuban music group that were all trained at Cuba’s premiere music conservatory (La ENA) at a time when it was illegal to listen to American songs. The group specialise in Timba music, a high energy combination of Latin jazz and salsa. In many ways the album is a true reflection of their musical education, which consisted of classical music by day and Afro-Cuban by night. The result is a fantastic set of high tempo, rhythm-based songs that work in many different but pleasing ways.
Bach’s melodies work so well in this framework that it is hard to remember that he wasn’t writing for this genre all those years ago. The eleven track Bach in Havana contains many recognisable melodies and well-known favourites, such as; ‘Air on a G String’ and ‘Minuet in G’ (the melody of which was ‘borrowed’ by The Toys for their 1965 hit ‘A Lover’s Concerto’).
Jorge Gomez is the musical director and keyboard player. He, and the seven strong group, are joined by guest musicians Paquito D’Rivera and sax player Yosavany Terry. It is no surprise that the playing is first-class. The arrangements by Gomez are outstanding. The horns sound creamy and the overall feel is not unlike early Santana in full flow. Tracks, such as ‘Fuga’, based on Sonata in D Minor and ‘Gavotte’ have a wonderful, jazzy, brassy sound that will get you mixing a Cuba Libre and dancing around your living room.
Even though Timba is not overly popular in the world-wide salsa scene (many salsa dancers consider it difficult to dance to and strong to their ears), it has found a niche among a growing number of fans and has been influential amongst Cuban-American and European salsa musicians. Bach in Havana from Tiempo Libre is an unqualified success and I would expect it to convert a lot of listeners to this particular style of music which appeals to the head, the heart and the feet.
Bach in Havana is released on May 5, 2009.
Reviewed by: Peter ‘taB’ Walker