For Jesse Cook, music has been a journey. Sonically and literally.
“Over the years, I’ve taken my music and tried to cross-pollinate it with music from different parts of the world,” explains the 50-year-old global-guitar virtuoso. “For the (2003) album Nomad, I went to Cairo and recorded with musicians there. On my (2009) record The Rumba Foundation, I went to Colombia, and worked with musicians from Cuba as well. On (1998’s) Vertigo, I went down to Lafayette, La., and recorded with Buckwheat Zydeco. For me, the question has always been: Where did you go? Where did you take your guitar?”
The short answer this time? Nowhere. And everywhere. After two decades of criss-crossing the world in restless pursuit of inspiration, innovation and collaboration, the Paris-born, Toronto-raised Cook changed course for his ninth studio album One World, out April, 28th, 2015 on eOne Music Canada. Instead of exotic locales, he stayed home in his studio. Instead of a foreign legion of performers, he relied on his own devices. And instead of exploring cul de sacs of music — flamenco, classical, rumba, world beat, pop, blues or jazz — he united them.
“On this record, it’s not really about going someplace,” he says of the album, whose cover depicts a vast, ancient tree. “The idea is that there really is just one world. If you pull your focus back far enough, you start to see all music as being branches of the same tree. They’re all connected to the same trunk from way back.
“For example, my strange way of playing guitar is a hybrid of styles. I was a classical guitarist as a kid, and I studied flamenco and then I studied jazz. So there are three musical and guitar traditions in my background. And one of the forms I use, rumba flamenco, is itself a hybrid created in the 1800s when sailors were coming back to Spain from Cuba, having heard these Cuban rhythms. And here I am, 150 years later, taking it and mixing it back with modern music and seeing where it takes me. Music is a constantly evolving thing.”
As is Cook’s creative approach. Despite its humble home-made origins, One World begins another chapter in the multi-tasking artist, composer and producer’s quest. His destination: The digital realm. To create the disc’s emotive melodies, fluid grooves and rich sonic tapestries, he incorporated technology more than ever before. Give credit to his precocious young assistant.
“I have two small children, and my son is forever trying to get on my computer. If I’m in my studio, he’ll come in and sit down and just start pushing buttons and making things happen in the recording program I use. At first I was terrified he would mess things up. But he actually got really good at poking around. I started going, ‘Wow, what’s that? What are you doing? Let me in there!’ I started writing tunes using weird loops and metallic and electronic sounds. And I found myself interested in taking what I do and putting it in a more modern context. I’ve leaned heavily on ancient instruments. But for this record, I put those instruments side by side with modern sounds — unabashedly so.”
What results is the most sonically diverse and distinctive disc in Cook’s vast and varied catalogue, which has earned 11 Juno nominations and one win for 2000’s Free Fall. On these 11 instrumentals, programmed beats and dusty electronic textures are interwoven with syncopated handclaps, deep dubby basslines and popping percussion. Sitars and violin share the space with synthesizers and sound effects. Notes and rhythms dance playfully back and forth between speakers. Naturally, Cook’s masterful guitar work commands centre stage with its elegant balance of subtlety, in-the-moment honesty and blazing technical prowess. But here, it also pivots between worlds — past and future, familiar and fresh, acoustic and electronic — redefined by technology like every element of modern life.
“We’re all involved with our computers in a big way, though we malign them,” laughs Cook. “People complain social media is ruining communication and that people just text instead of call. But love and romance and imagination and art also happen through computers. People fall in love online. People talk to loved ones on Skype. People write great love letters on the computer, create great works of art, great compositions. It has become this integral part of human expression and I wanted to give it a voice in what I was doing.”
And in doing so, the artist who hadn’t planned to travel for this album found himself in the most exotic locale imaginable.
“I wanted to make what I was doing feel like Constantinople, the ancient city that existed between the East and the West. It was the meeting point of all these great cultures — Africa, Europe, Asia, India. I want my music to be that place: The Constantinople of sound. A place where ancient sounds meet with modern ones and pass though that port.”
The journey continues.
Pour Jesse Cook, la musique est depuis toujours associée au voyage. Au sens propre comme au sens figuré. Son nouvel album One World, disponible le 28 avril, en est une exemple parfait. Le résultat, One World, est le disque le plus musicalement distinctif du catalogue pourtant déjà très varié de Cook.
Sur les 11 pièces de One World, les guitares, les sitars et les violons se marient aux claviers et aux sonorités électroniques pendant que les notes et les rythmes passent de façon ludique d’un haut-parleur à l’autre. Évidemment, les qualités guitaristiques exceptionnelles de Jesse Cook restent au centre de l’album, mariant subtilité de jeu, honnêteté dans l’exécution et véritables prouesses techniques. Mais cette fois, la musique de Jesse Cook flirte avec deux univers, celui du passé et celui de l’avenir, le familier et l’innovateur, l’acoustique et l’électronique, le tout redéfini par la technologie moderne, comme, du reste, le sont tous les aspects de la vie d’aujourd’hui.
“Je voulais que mes nouvelles compositions soient une sorte de Constantinople – aujourd’hui Istanbul – de la musique, cette cité antique qui se trouvait au confluent de l’Est et de l’Ouest, et où se rencontraient les cultures de l’Afrique, de l’Europe, de l’Inde et de l’Asie? One World, pour moi, c’est ça : un endroit où les sonorités anciennes rencontrent les modernes, un port où toutes les influences se croisent.”
Plutôt que d’explorer un à la fois différents styles musicaux – le flamenco, le classique, la rumba, la musique du monde, la pop, le blues ou le jazz –, il a décidé de les réunir dans son travail créatif. “L’aventure ne consistait pas tant à aller quelque part», précise-t-il à propos de cet album qu’il compare à un arbre gigantesque et très ancien (d’où la pochette). “Il s’agissait plutôt de montrer que nous vivons tous dans le même monde. Si on recule assez loin dans le temps pour avoir une vision globale de la musique, on s’aperçoit que tous les styles sont un peu comme les branches du même arbre. Ils sont tous rattachés au même tronc commun, qui remonte à des temps très lointains.”
Jesse Cook sera de passage à la Maison Symphonique de Montréal les 2 et 3 juillet prochain dans le cadre du Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Les dates de la tournée québécoise de Jesse Cook prévue pour novembre seront annoncées sous peu.
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“Jesse Cook is Canada’s King of the rumba flamenco… Cook lights a Mediterranean fire in the Great White North.”
“…lightning fast and bright flamenco guitarist…Jesse Cook…is about as seductive, percussive and danceable as this kind of music gets…also a powerful pop songwriter, with each melody standing out above the weaving rhythms sung by his intoxicating strings.”
– Jazziz (USA)
“…he sets spirits on high…combines his love for pure pop hooks with artful finger-stylings.”
– Jazziz (USA)
“…Cook distinguished himself in a break at the end that explored stratospheric heights of the guitar’s range.”
– Daily Nation (Barbados)
“Canadian strummer wows Singapore audiences with his fancy fingerwork.”
– The Straits Times (Singapore)
“…tantalizing blend of rumba, flamenco and Latin jazz-and some amazing guitar work.”
“Cook shows magnifico creativity.
– Cleveland Free Press
“Cook is much more than another in a long line of Ottmar wannabes… Cook displays a touch and formidable technique that fits him above the large pack of imitators.”
– Acoustic Guitar
“Jesse Cook plays with a proficiency and style that most guitarists can only conjure up in their sleep.”
– Tucson Lifestyle
“This music is perfect and Cook is perfection.”
– Tampa Tribune
“Cook’s talent is, simply, tremendous, and anyone who has any interest in contemporary instrumental music—particularly where acoustic guitars and percussion are concerned—should run, not walk, to get this CD.”
– Tampa Tribune
“Cook’s hot mix of world music punctuated by his astounding guitar work had the audience tapping, clapping, and shouting “ole!” the entire evening, and then up on their feet for three encores.”
– Esaton Concert Review (USA)
“Guitar virtuoso Jesse Cook is a walking embodiment of the gypsy music he plays: eclectic, energetic, and very exciting. Perhaps that is why he says that his music chose him, and not the other way around. After all, he does seem like the perfect candidate.”
– The Star Online (Kuala Lumpur)
Click on title for full review.
May 13, 2013
“We’re music, we have to tour to pay my bills, that is what we do. I really don’t have many other options. I’d make a lousy dentist.”
November 07, 2012
“A very different, very well-produced and well-performed project full of soft, sweet melodies and moods.”
October 15, 2012
“…now is the time I actually had the courage to do it.”
September 18, 2012
“À écouter enveloppé dans une couverture de laine, en ce bon début d’automne pluvieux. On a testé!”
September 17, 2012
“You had me at the first 5 or 6 chords…”
September 16, 2012
“…this aural sketchbook becomes an excursion filled with modest pleasures.”
April 21, 2012
Toronto-based guitarist Jesse Cook will bring his jazzy latin- and world-influenced music to the Rose Theatre May 2 at 7:30 p.m for a special performance.