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."