In Puerto Rico, Luis Marín is one of the leading popular music and jazz pianists. Since early childhood, he has been performing in public, which eventually led to his involvement with some of the most significant artists in salsa and jazz. He has been a freelancer for a while now, as he is very much involved in the family business, which precludes the of way of life required for success as a bandleader. Nevertheless, Marín keeps himself rather busy throughout the island, as a performer under his own banner, as a studio cat, as well as an accompanist of an ever-growing roster of artists from various musical backgrounds.
We had the opportunity to briefly dialogue about his two recordings, Inconsolable and Live at the Nuyorican Café 2 . The former recording is a historical landmark inasmuch as it is the first jazz work solely inspired by the repertoire of a Puerto Rican popular singer. The latter is a gig that became a recording.
Although Marín wasn't trying to represent a singer's élan, personality and public personae through jazz -as his intentions were "to work with his repertoire"- Gilberto Monroig himself looms over the Inconsolable production. For the pianist, Monroig "was one of the first singers of the old school that I met at the outset of my professional career. I had known of his work through the late 70s and early 80s Artomax recordings and had the privilege of accompanying him several times as a member of the Mandy Vizoso orchestra. His borderline dramatic interpretations -without falling into cartoonish histrionics- his phrasing and the volume range of his voice -from whispers to loud voicings when deemed convenient- impressed me greatly."
Marín furthers his points on the singer's capacity to impact both audiences and musicians, while confessing his inability to explain Monroig's importance as an artist in technical terms, by acknowledging the need to "listen to him as, that way, his importance explains itself rather clearly." The romantic interpreter's "way of dressing, his behavior in front of an audience, as well as his overall artistic presentation, were the utmost expression of elegance," adds Marín. Since Monroig was an unabashed chain smoker, whose public personae would be inconceivable without its smoky surroundings -à la classic jazz photography of the 50s and 60s- I asked him where was the smoke in his Inconsolable project, whereupon he replied that "it is most likely in my composition entitled 'Estimado Gilberto'."
Moving on to his Live at the Nuyorican Café 2 release, Marín states, "the funniest thing that night was that, what was recorded, wasn't intended to become a recording. It was simply a test of new equipment purchased by the Nuyorican Café. That's why the recorded material doesn't have the time limitations of other recordings. We simply played as we usually do, with the liberties taken when performing in a club. It was two months later that Jefferson Braswell, the producer, showed me the recording and decided to release it to the market." The repertoire performed that night, however, can be readily traced to his first release as "it is, basically, an extension of Inconsolable because it takes songs from the Puerto Rican popular musical repertoire, treating it in the way jazz usually does by first stating the main melody and then improvising upon the harmonic changes of the main theme. There were no other pretensions upon the material and its treatment."
The enthusiasm of the audience that night is evident in the recording itself, as Marín adds that "in the case of Puerto Rico, I think it's important to reach the public with known material as a means to get their immediate attention, thus getting them to follow me throughout the entire interpretation." Since I was under the impression that on this occasion Marín was thinking more along the lines of a traditional jazz trio format -sans Latin percussion- I mentioned it to him, at which point he rejoined by stating that "I am of the opinion that there's already enough 'Latin jazz' -or however other way anyone might want to call it- in terms of emphasizing percussion in order for the music to rely on it. I try to use percussion, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, as an additional resource, instead of being the foundation for the work that we do. It's true that the sound I seek is the one derived from traditional [jazz] trios, with the conga as a binding element for my Caribbean traditions."
What was like then, both personally and professional, to work under his own musical guise rather that someone else's? "Logically, the pressure as a leader is higher because of the responsibility to present the proper repertoire and fulfilling the public's expectations. Even so, after beginning the performance, everything smoothes out as the music takes over everyone and goes beyond a moment of experimentation and expression where -when having the right musicians- it becomes one of the most pleasurable experiences one could feel. When working as a sideman, that responsibility is substituted for the fulfillment of the task at hand and the need to contribute to the music -without overdoing it- in order to satisfy both the artist and his music."
Finally, since bassist Pedro Pérez is one of my favorite salsa musicians, I asked Marín about him as a jazzer. His reply was rather surprising as I thought Pérez was more versed in jazz than his performances reveal. "Pedro," Marín states, "is a very curious case. I met him about 15 years ago when we were at the Andy Montañez band. His musicality and knowledge as a salsero impressed me a lot. We were always in touch as friends throughout the rest of our lives, as well as professionals as we recorded together for other artists after leaving Montañez's band -he left in '88 and I in '89. In 1997, I performed for the first time as a leader at the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest and I selected him as bassist for the group. Ever since, I have tried to have him in all the projects I have been involved in. I said his case was curious because jazz isn't a part of his musical formation -except for a 1992 eight-week course at Berklee he took at my behest. To this day, he's still not considered as a jazz bassist -which I understand perfectly. Some times, however, the labels placed upon a musician are not as important as his performances and musicality. In that regard, in my opinion, Pérez is one of the best bassists in the world, no matter what genre anyone might want to enclose him in."
Visit Luis Marín on the web at www.luismarin.com .