Monday, April 24, 2006
When the Miami-based Tiempo Libre performed Saturday night at the Lied Center, the group made it clear that timba - a musical mix of Latin jazz and son rhythms - is not just about sitting there and listening to the music. It's about experiencing the music with your whole body.
"If you wanna dance, it's not a concert," Jorge Gomez, the ensemble's pianist and musical director, announced early on in the show.
At first, it seemed his invitation would be thwarted by the self-conscious formality associated with evening performance at the Lied Center.
But then a lovely couple rose and strode confidently to the makeshift dance floor in front of the stage and began to move. The man and woman, clearly experienced dancers who knew how to enjoy themselves, paved the way for an ongoing parade of people of all ages who gathered at the front of the concert hall and took full advantage of Tiempo Libre's hip-rolling rhythms throughout the performance.
Though the group is talented, the strength of Tiempo Libre isn't so much the technical music-making as it is the go-with-it sensuality and energy it brings to its performances. These feelings, though perhaps inherent to Cuban rhythms, were without a doubt enhanced by lead vocalist Joaquin "El Kid de la Salsa" DÃ-az, whose smooth, pelvic-driven moves were infectious and ensured a cluster of young women remained steadfast front and center on the dance floor all night long. Luis Beltran Castillo's rich, bright notes on saxophone also hit sweet spots at all the right moments throughout the evening.
The band definitely came into its own during the second half of the show, when both the audience and group members seemed more comfortable and ready to get down. At one point, someone even led a chain of people threading through the aisles, which is apparently a regular phenomenon at Tiempo Libre concerts. And the last two songs of the night really carried the dynamic and vibrant culture of Cuba into the theater, with quick, rolling percussion, passionate singing and the feeling that life is something to be embraced and celebrated. It was a welcome reminder that Cuba, despite its tumultuous history and uneasy political relationship with the United States, is a place that has much to share, both culturally and socially.
On a different note, it also should be taken into consideration that the Lied Center continues to wrestle with inadequate acoustics and an uncertain sound system - persistent problems perhaps best resolved if it is written into performing contracts that a local, Lied Center sound engineer who understands the challenges of the space must be involved with setting up sound prior to performances. Perhaps this is already a part of how the venue does things?
That being said, even the snaps, crackles and pops of the speakers didn't deter Tiempo Libre - and audience members - from giving it their all and having a good time because it felt right, and the little things didn't matter. And that was what made the evening so fun.
- Becca Ramspott is a Lawrence-based freelance writer covering the arts.