Jesse Cook’s Tenth Album Lives Up To Its Title:
Beyond Borders

The Record Explores a Sonic Landscape Unfettered
by Geography, Ethnicity and Musical Styles
to Forge a Unique World Music Hybrid

“I want to take people to places they haven’t been,” Jesse Cook says. The Juno winning Canadian guitarist, known for his masterful fusion of world music styles, has traveled the globe looking for sounds that resonate with him. On his new album, Beyond Borders, he continues his journey, playing music without any cultural or geographical boundaries.

“I like music that provides a common ground for different traditions, a space where music from all historical eras and parts of the world can mingle,” Cook explains. “On this album, and One World, my last record, I began to realize that you can go anywhere on earth, without moving. There are many borders in our lives. Some have been built by others, some we create for ourselves, but whenever I ventured beyond the borders of my life, I have been the better for it. In the past few years, we’ve been moving backwards. I don’t want to focus on politics, but after the fall of the Berlin wall, Europe united and people began thinking of themselves as global citizens. The rising nationalism of today is exploiting our differences, not celebrating them. Beauty, humanity, artistry, joy, wisdom, and of course love…these things don’t stop at some line on a page. If music is the universal language, maybe there is something it can teach us?”

True to his philosophy, Cook has recorded in seven countries on three continents, collaborating with Egyptian, Columbian, Brazilian, African and Armenian musicians to develop a singular synthesis of flamenco, jazz, R&B, electronic and world music. On Beyond Borders, he found inspiration in his own backyard. “Toronto has become one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, so I can stay home and find everything I need. We have musicians from Armenia, Greece, Spain, Columbia, India, West Africa, Cuba and Jamaica, to mention a few. You can find Brazilian samba schools and West African drum circles, so I was able to record Beyond Borders in my home studio.”

The album took two and a half years to make, with every track created to Cook’s own meticulous standards. He writes, records and arranges the music, creating templates with deep emotional foundations, before inviting collaborators to add nuance and shading to the compositions. “Everything on this album comes from my own experience. I was going through a difficult period in my life and it blew the door of my imagination wide open. I went for a huge sound, without limits. I threw away the rules, trying to find places I’d never been before, and I got there. The sad songs are sadder, the rhythms are more intricate, the sounds mashed up to look at traditional patterns in a new way.”

“Double Dutch,” the album’s first single, exemplifies Cook’s approach. It’s a percussion heavy excursion into the rhythms of Spain and Cuba, with a side helping of salsa styles from Miami and New York. The mid-tempo rumba groove is stated by Cook’s guitar, overlaid with his hand clapping and a basic djembe line. Processed drum loops generate unfamiliar sounds that suggest India, Latin America and the Middle East, as Cook’s shimmering lead guitar weaves in and out of the mix. Chris Church adds Egyptian flavored violin accents, while the chorus rubs shoulders with a samba-like cadence. “The rumbling bass line is borrowed from modern urban and pop music, but without auto-tuning,” Cook says.

Egyptian vocalist Maryem Tollar co-wrote the title tune with Cook and adds improvised countermelodies to the track. Her processed vocals dart in and out of focus, adding passionate ululations to the intro and outro. Cook’s guitar has an oud-like resonance, as he plays the melody against a funk-like pulse of clapping hands and programmed dumbek. Long, sustained, subterranean bass notes and his brief, brittle solo set up a chorus played by Church’s multi-tracked violins that suggests a Bollywood string extravaganza. Tollar’s vocals and a flurry of complex dumbek rhythms take the tune back to Cook’s simply stated hook.

“A Mi Niña” is a solo showcase for Cook. It was recorded in one take, at the small studio he maintains in his countryside cabin. It’s a slow flamenco rumba that alternates between single notes that resonate in the air and short bursts of rhythmic accents. “It’s my daughter’s favorite song, so I named it after her – anonymously.”

The moody album closer, “Wisdom of a Thousand Years,” was co-written with Bulgarian vocalist Tamar Ilana. “I asked Tamar to improvise vocals for another track,” Cook says. “What she did was so compelling, we wrote a song around her chorus.” Ilana’s mournful vocal, rumbling, ambient bass notes and Cook’s measured guitar introduction are supported by funk accented tabla and hand claps. Cook’s flamenco guitar and Ilana’s vocals play out against Church’s processed violin, as the track opens up to give Cook space for a short, impressive solo. Things come to a close with an intertwining cluster of dumbek, tabla and guitar.

“What holds the record together is that everything is blurring,” Cook states. “Every song has different global elements. At one point, I stopped trying to figure out how many genres were in each song. It became world music without limitations, without borders.”

Cook was born in Paris, to Canadian parents. The family moved to Arles, where they bought a small home built in the 16th Century, for 100 dollars. “It was like stepping into the Middle Ages,” Cook recalls. “Manitas de Plata was popular then. His albums got me interested in the sound of flamenco guitar.”

After moving back to Canada, Cook started guitar lessons. “My teacher played flamenco. It was as if the world conspired to get me interested in the style. When I visited my dad in France, he was living next door to Nicholas Reyes, the singer of the Gipsy Kings. I saw the gipsy kids on the corner playing guitar that way, and got hooked.”

At the Eli Kassner Guitar Academy in Toronto, he continued studying flamenco. Kassner told him he was a natural, but long hours of practicing didn’t sit well with him. “I’d look out the window and see my friends playing, so I quit. In high school, I told a friend I could show him how to play and got interested in music again.” Cook studied classical guitar at the Royal Conservatory of Music, moving on to York University and Berklee College in Boston. Then he heard the Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin album, Friday Night in San Francisco. “It captured their freewheeling, virtuosic spirit. I was amazed by people playing whatever they wanted, using flamenco as a foundation.”

During his school years, Cook got interested in recording. “My mom was a TV producer and traveled a lot. I built a studio in my basement and, since there were no parents around, my friends and I were able to write and record around the clock. At Berklee, I majored in Music Synthesis and minored in guitar. There was a Macintosh computer at every workstation. I wanted to be a producer and knew I’d have to get into computers if I wanted to pursue that goal.”

Cook’s cousin got him a job writing for a choreographer. That led to offers to compose for dance troupes. “Having synthesizer skills allowed me to write, record and flesh out my compositions.” Although composing kept his guitar chops in shape, he wasn’t thinking about performing. “At the end of my 20s, I recorded Tempest a flamenco album, with some electronic elements. I made it at home, just for fun. I released it independently and the first thousand CDs sold out in a week.” Cook made 2,000 more. By the end of the second week, they were gone too. “I got a record deal from a company in the States and decided to start performing and writing seriously. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

On his albums, and in concert, Cook explored the history of flamenco, tracing its roots from India to Spain and Cuba. Along the way, he developed his signature synthesis of world music. He’s released ten genre-defying albums, garnering eleven Juno (Canada’s Grammy) nominations – and one win, in 2001 for Free Fall – in the World Music and Instrumental categories. “I write music without lyrics, so it’s a statement of pure emotion,” Cook says. “Music touches your soul, or it doesn’t, and every tradition on earth has its own way of doing that. When we venture beyond our cultural and geographic borders, we can gain the whole world.”


Jesse Cook est né à Paris, de parents canadiens. Dans les années 70, Manitas de Plata était très populaire et ses albums amènent Cook à s’intéresser à la guitare flamenco. Après avoir déménagé au Canada, il prend des leçons de guitare : premier cours, son professeur joue… du flamenco ! Si on ajoute qu’en France, son père avait comme voisin… Nicholas Reyes, le chanteur des Gipsy Kings, impossible de nier une conspiration de l’Univers pour que Cook s’intéresse au style…
À l'Académie de guitare Eli Kassner à Toronto, il se met donc à étudier le flamenco. Kassner lui dit qu'il est doté d’un talent naturel, mais les longues heures de pratique ne plaisent guère au jeune Jesse. « Je regardais par la fenêtre et j’étais envieux de voir mes amis jouer dehors; alors j’ai tout quitté. » Un peu plus tard, à l’école secondaire, un ami lui demande de lui montrer à jouer; c’est alors qu’il se rend compte à quel point la musique me manque. Cook étudie ensuite la guitare classique au Royal Conservatory of Music, puis à l'Université York et au Berklee College de Boston. Il y découvre l’album Friday Night in San Francisco de Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola et John McLaughlin : « J’entendais à la fois leur virtuosité et leur esprit libre. J'étais franchement étonné de voir qu’on pouvait jouer n’importe quoi en utilisant le flamenco comme base. »

Pendant sa scolarité, Cook s'intéresse aussi à l'enregistrement. « Ma mère était productrice de télévision et voyageait beaucoup. J'ai aménagé un studio dans notre sous-sol et, comme il n'y avait pas de parents dans les environs, mes amis et moi-même y passions tout notre temps, à écrire puis à enregistrer des chansons. À Berklee, je me suis spécialisé en synthèse sonore (l’ensemble de techniques permettant la génération de signaux sonores), avec une mineure en guitare. Il y avait un ordinateur Macintosh à chaque poste de travail. Je voulais être un producteur et je savais que je devais m’intéresser sérieusement à l’informatique si je voulais poursuivre dans cette voie. »

Puis, le cousin de Cook lui trouve un emploi de compositeur pour un chorégraphe, ce qui le mène à travailler pour des troupes de danse, ses compétences en synthétiseur lui permettant d'écrire, d'enregistrer et de mixer ses propres compositions. Bien que ce boulot lui permet de ne pas trop être rouillé à la guitare, il ne se destine plus à l’interprétation; mais à la fin de sa vingtaine, il enregistre Tempest, un album de flamenco comprenant des éléments électroniques : « Je l'ai fait à la maison, juste pour le plaisir. Je l'ai lancé moi-même et j’ai vendu les mille CD en une semaine ! J’en ai fait presser 2000 de plus et à la fin de la deuxième semaine, ils étaient vendus eux aussi ! J'ai alors obtenu un contrat de disque avec une entreprise américaine et j'ai décidé de commencer à donner des spectacles et à écrire plus assidûment. C'est la meilleure décision que j'ai prise de toute ma vie. »

Avec ses albums et en concert, Cook explore l'histoire du flamenco, retraçant ses racines de l'Inde à l'Espagne en passant par Cuba. En chemin, il a développé son style bien à lui dans l’histoire des musiques du monde. Il a sorti dix albums défiant les étiquettes, recueillant onze nominations aux prix Juno — et une statuette en 2001 pour Free Fall — dans les catégories Musique du monde et Instrumental. « J'écris de la musique sans paroles, donc c'est une question d'émotion pure », explique Cook. « La musique touche l’âme et toutes les traditions musicales du monde ont leur propre moyen d’y parvenir; c’est pourquoi, lorsque nous nous nous aventurons au-delà de nos frontières culturelles et géographiques, nous pouvons conquérir le monde entier… »


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Jesse Cook – Publicity Image Photo credit: Allen Clark

Jesse Cook – Publicity Image Photo credit: Allen Clark

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“Jesse Cook is Canada’s King of the rumba flamenco… Cook lights a Mediterranean fire in the Great White North.”
– Chatelaine

“…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.”
– Buzz

“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.

The Music Express

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.”

The Smooth Jazz Ride

November 07, 2012
“A very different, very well-produced and well-performed project full of soft, sweet melodies and moods.”

The Vancouverist (Interview)

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!” (Special feature)

September 17, 2012
“You had me at the first 5 or 6 chords…”

The Montreal Gazette

September 16, 2012
“…this aural sketchbook becomes an excursion filled with modest pleasures.”

Brampton Guardian

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.

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