Sony Masterworks released the group’s latest timba recording, My Secret Radio, in May, 2011. The album pays homage to Tiempo Libre’s teenage years in Cuba, a time when the government forbade its citizens to listen to American music, and Russia pulled its support from the island. Inspired by their Afro-Cuban tradition, but eager to catch the new trends and sounds coming from the U.S., Tiempo Libre’s members would fashion homemade antennas and secretly listen to the music pulsating from Miami radio stations at night. These secret radio sessions fueled Tiempo Libre’s dreams of living in America, free to perform their songs and build the careers they wanted, while helping them gather the strength that it took to leave it all behind – families, friends, a country, a life – to pursue those dreams. The CD is their tribute to the many powerful voices that rocked their world, including Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Gloria Estefan and Earth Wind & Fire. The album features guest performances by jazz singer Rachelle Fleming and reunites Tiempo Libre founder Jorge Gómez with the legendary Cuban songstress Albita. My Secret Radio, and the inspiring story behind it, has been featured on Fox News’ Real American Stories, CNN en Español, PRI’s The World, Mega TV’s Bayly and in Mother Jones and People En Español. Better TV captured Tiempo Libre pianist and musical director Jorge Gómez’s emotional first time meeting with the members of Earth, Wind & Fire, when he recounted how inspiring their music was to him.
Tiempo Libre’s first recording for Sony Masterworks, Bach in Havana, was nominated for a Grammy award for “Best Tropical Latin Album” and featured tracks with Paquito D’Rivera and Yosvany Terry. The CD, a fusion of Bach with Afro-Cuban rhythms, reflects the duality of Tiempo Libre’s childhood days studying classical music and nights spent playing timba music. Released in May, 2009, the album received airplay on more than 200 radio stations, was hailed by Latin Jazz Network as “a landmark recording in the sense that Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue was approximately 50 years ago” and was selected as a best pick in new Latin music by The Miami Herald. The group performed “Tu Conga Bach” from the CD on Dancing with the Stars. In conjunction with the release of Bach in Havana, the family behind Bustelo Café – for the first time in 80 years – changed its Bustelo Café coffee can to feature Tiempo Libre with a free music download.
In addition to stand-alone concerts, the members of Tiempo Libre draw on their rigorous classical training and introduce Cuban music to new audiences through performances with leading classical artists and orchestras. The group was invited to collaborate on the duet “Para Ti” with violinist Joshua Bell, which was featured on Bell’s album At Home with Friends. The group also performed the track with Bell on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, the Live From Lincoln Center: Joshua Bell @ Home with Friends PBS Special and on WNYC radio’s popular program Soundcheck. In the fall of 2008, Tiempo Libre brought its dynamic Afro-Cuban beat to leading flautist Sir James Galway’s album, O’Reilly Street, released by the RCA Red Seal label. The album features an exciting Latin jazz arrangement of music from the Claude Bolling Jazz Suites including “Baroque and Blue”, as well as a timba take on Bach’s “Badinerie” and a number of vibrant new compositions all by Tiempo Libre’s musical director and pianist Jorge Gómez. The result is rich in the traditions of multiple genres, authentic yet emotionally seductive, transcending the borders between classical, jazz and Cuban music.
Tiempo Libre’s musical director Jorge Gómez and University of Miami’s Frost School of Music’s Raul Murciano collaborated to create a medley of traditional cha-cha-chás and sones as well as selections from Tiempo Libre’s Bach in Havana, which the band has performed with leading orchestras including the Oregon Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, The Lexington Philharmonic, The Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the Austin Symphony, The San Francisco Symphony and The Cleveland Orchestra.
In March 2012, The Cleveland Orchestra, under the leadership of conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, invited Tiempo Libre to launch and develop the bilingual educational family concert program, Crossings~Travesías, for The Orchestra’s annual residency at Miami’s Arsht Center. The musical journey explored the DNA of orchestral musical tradition from its early origins in Africa, through Europe, to the Caribbean and Latin America to the modern day concert hall. The Cleveland Orchestra and Tiempo Libre performed Crossings~Travesías for over 4,000 Miami Dade public school students, as well as to thousands of Miami audience members of all ages. True to Tiempo Libre’s philosophy that music is not just a way of life, it’s a way of experiencing living, each of the concerts invited young people to take part in the rhythmic fun.
In Spring 2007, Tiempo Libre embarked upon the creation of a new work – Rumba Sinfónica – for symphony orchestra and Cuban band. The composition, a collaboration with the highly-respected Venezuelan classical composer Ricardo Lorenz, was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, the Ravinia Festival and the Festival of the Arts Boca. Since its premiere in Minneapolis in November, 2007, Tiempo Libre has performed Rumba Sinfónica with a number of orchestras including: the National Arts Centre, Dallas Symphony and Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestras and the DuPage, Syracuse, Portland (ME), San Antonio, North Carolina and Hartford Symphonies.
In addition to their performing and recording careers, the members of Tiempo Libre are particularly committed to the sharing of their rich musical traditions through outreach and educational activities and have participated in artist in residence programs at Michigan State University, Interlochen Academy and with the Cleveland Orchestra. The group has also become known for its inspiring classes on rumba, Latin jazz and traditional Cuban music, designed to reach audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Following up being named “Best Latin Band 2008” by the Miami New Times, Tiempo Libre brought a true Cuban experience to its American home-town of Miami, with the interactive musical production Miami Libre, which premiered at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in July, 2008, featuring a cast of 25, including Tiempo Libre’s seven members. Miami Libre, based on the band’s collective immigrant experience, is told through English and Spanish narrative, sizzling music and explosive dance.
Tiempo Libre’s members were all enjoying thriving careers in Latin music performing, touring and recording with such artists as Albita, Cachao, Arturo Sandoval, NG La Banda, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Isaac Delgado, when the seven extraordinary musicians came together to realize their collective musical dream: to create the first authentic all-Cuban timba band in the United States. Their eagerness to share their music with others led these multi-talented individuals to come together between projects to develop their new style together, hence the name Tiempo Libre (Free Time).
Since their formation in 2001, the members of Tiempo Libre have been on a mission: to share the musical heritage in which they grew up with as wide an audience as possible, reinterpreting and reinvigorating traditional Cuban music with a youthful, modern sound and forging a new style born from the meeting of their Cuban roots and their new American experience. In Summer 2002, at the group’s Ravinia Festival debut opening for Celia Cruz, Tiempo Libre dazzled a crowd of more than 12,000 people. They were quickly reengaged by Ravinia for Summer 2003, where they shared a bill with Aretha Franklin, performing before an enthusiastic crowd of 20,000. Summer 2003 also included performances at the new Heineken Jazz Festival in Hua Hin, Thailand where Tiempo Libre were the undeniable sensation of the Festival. Return trips to Asia have included sold out shows at Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing Theatre and the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, the glorious concert hall at the foot of the famous twin towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as well as concerts for the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Singapore Sun Fest and the Gwangju World Music Festival in South Korea. The group has brought its dynamic sound to the international stage with concerts at places including the Jerusalem Theater, the Tel Aviv Opera House, Istanbul’s İş Arts and Culture Center, Adelaide Festival Centre and Guatemala’s Festival Internacional De Cultura Paiz, In 2011, the band was delighted to perform at the Divino Tuscany Festival’s closing ceremony, held at the Italian villa of Sting and Trudie Styler, who joyously danced to Tiempo Libre’s music. August, 2005 brought Tiempo Libre’s European debut. Among the highlights of that tour, was Tiempo Libre’s performance at the closing concert of the new Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona, Italy where the band wowed a sold-out house.
The group’s busy touring schedule in the United States has included performances at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Miami’s JVC Jazz Festival, Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA, SOB’s in New York City, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Celebrate Brooklyn, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Festival International de Louisiane, Rochester International Jazz Festival, the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, the Lincoln Theater in Napa Valley, Boston’s Sculler’s Jazz Club, Society of the Performing Arts in Houston, the Kimmel Center, Orange County Performing Arts Center, California Center for the Arts, New Haven Jazz Festival, California World Fest, Lotus Music Festival, New York’s River-to-River Festival at the South Street Seaport, as well as Tanglewood, Caramoor International, Colorado, Interlochen, Green and Eastern music festivals.
In January 2005, Tiempo Libre released its debut album on the Shanachie label – Arroz con Mango – which was both a tribute to the deep Cuban roots of Tiempo Libre’s members and a celebration of their new life in the US. Received with universally glowing reviews, Arroz con Mango received tremendous attention in the press and was featured in numerous national publications including Latin Beat and Hispanic Magazine and NPR’s Latino USA. Fulfilling the meaning of its title (“arroz con mango” is a Cuban slang expression meaning something completely out of the ordinary), the album was nominated for a 2006 Grammy Award in the category of “Best Salsa/Meringue Album.” One year later, the band released Lo Que Esperabas – What You’ve Been Waiting For. And, once again, its title proved prophetic when the group was nominated for its second Grammy, this time for “Best Latin Tropical album.”