This title provides a pun on the enclosed concept, through which Tiempo Libre, led by pianist and co-producer Jorge Gomez, connects the rhythms and melodies of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz with the venerated melodies and harmonies of Johann Sebastian Bach. "What's interesting to me is that we revere Bach for his musical genius," explains Gomez. "But the fact that he was composing works for his contemporaries as a "popular" artist while also creating deeply religious compositions, and that he was fascinated by dance rhythms, makes him an even more powerful inspiration for me."
Bach in Havana celebrates genius, melodic or rhythmic, in every corner you look. The opening "Tu Conga Bach" cooks up a hot polyrhythmic conga from its first percussion flash fire. The horns and Gomez's piano create a rhythmic undertow by tossing the melody of "Fuga" (based on Sonata in D Minor, BVW.964) back and forth, like cresting ocean waves.
It's hard to convey how "Minuet in G," this Latin adornment of one of Bach's most famous and honored melodies, sounds both profoundly respectful and yet so different. Laying out piano notes like spreading a plush carpet before the ensemble, Gomez transforms the 3/4 minuet standard time into a feverish, compelling 4/4 guanganco that leaps and bounds through a musical kaleidoscope of vocals, congas, trumpet and saxophone.
Percussion and piano merge into a single voice in "Clave in C Minor" (Prelude No. 2 in C Minor), an intensely dynamic whirl of melody made indistinguishable from rhythm that grows even more powerful when the horns jump shotgun on this same groove.
It culminates with the genuinely sacred music of "Kyrie" (Mass in B Minor), which opens with a vocal choir and strings in a reverential mood unbroken when the percussion, piano, and other instruments join the procession. Gomez's piano part is breathtakingly gorgeous, distilling Cuban passion and romantic classicism into one single essence.
Bach in Havana is so good, so expertly conceived and executed, that it's almost ridiculous.
Personnel: Jorge Gomez: music director; arranger; keyboards; background vocals; Joaquin "El Kid" Diaz: lead vocals; Leandro Gonz