The Smooth Jazz Ride
November 7, 2012
To be sure, one should not confuse the title of the new release from Nuevo Flamenco guitar great Jesse Cook, The Blue Guitar Sessions, with the 12-bar blues that may come to mind. This is not The Blues Guitar Sessions. Rather, it is a very different, very well-produced and well-performed project full of soft, sweet melodies and moods.
Oh, there are clear nods to the blues. A good example would be the opening track, sung by a breathy Emma Lee, the classic Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” and, later in the album, a sublime and beautiful jazz/blues arrangement called “Miles Shorter.”
However, following that is a great group of tunes designed to place you in that romantic space that disregards any part of the world that falls outside of melody, exoticism, and romance. Helping with that escort into that world are the celestial strings that make their presence so well felt.
Now, there are instances where the tempo is picked up, as on “Witching Hour,” which has an interesting feel to it with its somewhat hybrid gypsy/reggae feel. This is one of those tracks that’s certainly not one easy to pigeonhole, much to Cook’s delight, I’ll bet. The stirring “Ocean Blue” is another stirring upbeat World track with an identity all its own.
Mind you, all of the tracks on the album still feature the licks and familiar Latin guitar fingering style of Cook embedded somewhere in each tune.
Cook has traveled much, seen much, and experienced much. Because of this all-encompassing experience, it is no wonder that he can simply let go with his imagination and envision then paint such a diverse project. Tunes like the melancholy “Toybox,” the sweet “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” and the telling “The Road” probably do the best job of describing the album’s title and mood as they conjure up “blue” as effectively as any piece on the album.
Wherever Cook tends to “go” with his projects, he always returns with an assortment of fine tunes and a noteworthy production that displays how seriously he regards his art while still having fun with its many facets.
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– Ronald JacksonSHARE
The Vancouverist (Interview)
October 15, 2012
Today we had the great pleasure of talking to guitarist extraordinaire, Jesse Cook about his sensational new album, The Blue Guitar Sessions. Here's what he had to say.
tV: You've created a much more intimate and personal album with The Blue Guitar Sessions. Can you talk a little about that?
JC: It's something that I've wanted to do for a long time. I love the fiery rumbas and the albums with lots of percussion I've been known for and I've always tried to be the Phil Spector of sound: the wall of drums and wall of guitars and big world music but on this album I wanted to go in the other direction and leave as much space as possible which is something I hadn't done in the past. It's something that Miles Davis has spoken about: it's not the notes you play it's the notes you don't play. I wanted to do that: leave enough space so when you play a note it has more significance.
Over the years there have been albums that I've loved: Miles Davis' Kind of Blue was certainly an influence for this record hence the album cover which is kind of a throwback to the Blue Note records or Prestige Jazz Collection albums. Another artist who has influenced me for this record is Ihasa de Sela. She did a beautiful album called La Liorona which was kind of an underground hit: immediately people all over the the planet loved it though I don't think she ever received mainstream attention. Her album is very moody and it sounded like a cross between Chavela Vargas and Edith Piaf. There are a lot of elements of almost circus music almost Kurt Vile at times. You can certainly hear those influences in this album. Adele's 21 was certainly an influence as well.
tV: You mentioned Miles Davis. Track six in particular sounds like a tribute of sorts to Kind of Blue.
JC: It was actually sort of a tongue-in-cheek title. I usually sit with a guitar and improvise until I find something that I find compelling and then I'll try and orchestrate it or arrange it into a song. Once I've done that I'll record it into my computer and as soon as you record it you have to name it. In this case because I was writing something that felt a bit like a tribute to Kind of Blue, I called it Miles. Later I did a shorter arrangement of it and called it Miles Shorter, which then sounded like a pun on Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter.
tV: I was thinking of the tone of the song itself.
JC: Oh for sure. It's probably the most jazz sounding piece on the record.
tV: This record is a departure from your usual style so why was it important for you now to make that switch?
JC: That's an interesting question. I guess because right now is the time I actually had the courage to do it. I wouldn't say it was a switch: it was something I wanted to explore. I'm probably going to go back to doing big and bombastic pieces because I love them but this was something that I wanted to explore. I'd wanted to do it the last three albums but other things caught my attention: or I wasn't sure I was ready to do it; I wasn't sure my audience would be interested. For whatever reason I just didn't do it. This time around I actually had to write two albums in order to convince myself that this was the album to make. I actually wrote a whole lot of music for another album which would have been, had it come out, a loud and bombastic, world music album. Then I wrote a whole bunch of other music that I called Plan B, which was all of these quiet little songs. I played them for a friend of mine and asked him which he preferred: he said he liked Plan B. That was how I felt as well but sometimes you need the validation of somebody else because when you write these things you're too close to them. That was all the encouragement I needed and from that point on it was Plan B all the way.
tV: It's quiet and more intimate. Was there something specific you were trying to express?
JC: The beauty of instrumental music is that it doesn't really have to mean anything: it's wide open for interpretation. When you write an instrumental piece it can be about anything. Maybe for me a particular song feels like that feeling that you get on an autumn day when it's raining outside and you're looking out the window going, “Where has the time gone?”, or “Where has my life gone?” or whatever (laughs), but for somebody else maybe it's something completely different: maybe it's that uplifting feeling of driving to the horizon. It's up to each person to find their own meaning in the songs.
tV: What was the most challenging things about making this album? You mentioned not wanting to fill the space.
JC: Oh my god, for me that was probably the biggest challenge. I had to fight my own inclinations all the way because I'm an arranger and my motto has always been “more is more.” You start arranging these things and they lose that space. If you fill that space suddenly it sounds like a big, dense arrangement. In order for it to have that intimacy you just can't load it up. The more instruments you have the more it starts to sound epic and I really didn't want to get there: I wanted to keep it personal.
All of the songs were written for two guitars, in fact they sounded beautiful with just two guitars and it was one of those things where I would add an instrument and listen to it and think, “No, I prefer it with two guitars” and off the instrument would go. I'd try out a violin or a cello and, take out the violin and leave the cello. You're feeling your way through. I had to keep removing more than adding: anytime I'd add something there was an 80% chance it wasn't going to end up in the final version.
tV: How has this album affected your choice in venue? Are you finding you're trying to book smaller, more intimate venues because of the nature of this album?
JC: No. I don't think there is a correlation between the size of the venue and how loud the music is or how many people you need on stage. The other thing too is when you tour a new record, if you only play songs from that new record they're going to hate you. People come because they want to hear their favourite song and the more albums you have, the more difficult it is to make sure you get everybody's favourite song. What we try to do in any concert is play music from right across my discography. Certainly on this tour there'll be a focus on the music from The Blue Guitar Sessions but I'll be surprised if it'll be a third of the concert.
tV: What was the biggest thing that you yourself took away from this experience? For example, was there anything that you discovered you'd like to do more often?
JC: There were a number of things like that. I engineer my own albums and with a few exceptions I've recorded all my albums in my own studio. For me sound has always been important: the way my records sound and the production on them. On this album, because I was trying to make a record that sounded like a BlueNote record, I did a lot of research on how they recorded them. They didn't record the way we do today. Nowadays people will have a mixing room with a computer and a little booth where the musicians record one-by-one, and then they mix them all together later. In the old days they had a great big sound stage. They'd put out these really expensive mics, have the band play all at the same time, and they'd lay down an entire record in a four hour session. Nowadays to modern engineers that's terrifying. There are all sorts of complicated things that happen and if you do that, suddenly the drums are bleeding into the bass microphone etc., and it starts to sound awful. It's a difficult process to record that way but somehow they did it and there was a very organic, real sound to it and a bigness.
I did a lot of research on the mics they used and the way they recorded and the way they mixed and I ended up searching all over the planet for the best microphone. I did a huge number of test recordings on most of the modern mics that are available and started doing tests on old vintage mics and ended up finding this one mic, which I can't tell you about because it's so fantastic and it took me so much work to get it that I want to keep it as my own secret (laughs). It's probably the greatest mic that was ever made. I found one of them in London England and another in Los Angeles and they cost as much as a small house because there are very few of them to go around. I recorded most of the record on them and I couldn't believe that these old mics sounded better than the new mics. To me that just seemed counter intuitive.
tV: That's the way though, isn't it?
JC: It is. And the old mics were made by hand so you think, “How accurate can that be.” The fact is they weren't accurate and maybe that was part of their magic.
tV: You said before that you were planning on going back to your original style but would you consider making another album like this at some point?
JC: I might. I certainly enjoyed it but after a year of music that has that blue mood to it, I was kind of looking forward to some happy rumbas. Honestly, I'm not sure what the next record is going to be or where it's going to take me. I try to make each record a little bit different. One record I went to Cairo and recorded with Egyptian musicians and the record before this one I went down to Columbia and recorded with Columbian musicians. Each record tries to find a new sound and I hope that the next record will too. Whether or not it's a quiet sound, who knows.
Jesse Cook will be in Vancouver at the Orpheum Theatre, Sunday December 16.
Check out Jesse's web site for other tour dates.
– The VancouveristSHARE
September 18, 2012
C'est aujourd'hui que paraît le nouvel album du guitariste Jesse Cook. Un son flamenco plus nuancé que ces deux précédents opus, plus près de la sensibilité du musicien et riche en collaborations instrumentales.
Dès la première écoute, j'ai été éprise de grands frissons: ce gars-là parle mon langage, celui de la guitare classique émotive, solo, oui, mais aussi à l'écoute de son entourage métissé.
Des meilleurs titres, on retiendra Broken Moon, Ne me quitte pas (superbe complainte chantée par Emma-Lee) et Fields of Blue. Chacune d'entre elles possède leur propre caractère, mélancolique, lumineux ou empreint d'espoir.
C'est une guitare flam à son meilleur, moins «show-off» qu'avant, mais qui risque à mon avis de retenir l'attention d'un plus grand bassin d'auditeurs. À écouter enveloppé dans une couverture de laine, en ce bon début d'automne pluvieux. On a testé!
– Marie- Eve BoulangerSHARE
JESSE COOK – THE BLUE GUITAR SESSIONS
September 18, 2012
Jesse Cook’s ‘blue mood’ signals a new direction.
Like millions the world over Jesse Cook got his hands on a copy of Adele’s 21 and played it excessively. But the Juno Award-winning guitarist saw something that few of us did, something which emboldened him to tackle a long simmering personal objective and create a ‘blue mood’ record.
“It was the simplicity of it,” says Cook of Adele’s work. “For me it was amazing that an album, where many of the tracks were just voice and piano, was a pop record. I loved it. It creates a world where we get to really hear her voice and also the pianist can be more expressive. It just becomes a much more intimate album, a much more personal album and I thought I would love to do that.”
Spending the summer of 2011 cottage hopping with his family, Cook set about writing material for The Blue Guitar Sessions, his eighth studio album. It’s set for release on September 18 in Canada (September 25 in the U.S.).
“I was feeling kind of guilty about leaving work to go on vacation,” he recalls. “I thought ‘if I write a song every day I can do whatever I want.’ It became effortless. It was never a struggle probably because I wanted to do this record for so long. I finally uncorked the genie and, poof, out it came.”
For the 47-year-old Toronto resident, who was born in Paris to John Cook, a film director and his wife Heather, a former CBC television producer, this record is much different from the rumba flamenco for which he is best known. Indeed, he has been a leading proponent of the genre since bursting onto the world music scene with 1995’s Tempest. Among his many accolades, in 2008, he won the silver medal in Acoustic Guitar magazine’s prestigious Players’ Choice Awards behind the legendary Paco De Lucia.
Cook has steered clear of anything resembling flamenco on this record, producing a sound that allows listeners to appreciate each musician’s contribution. To do so he also battled his natural instinct to fill in space.
“It’s a big departure from the work I have done in the past,” he admits, “and there’s a fear that if you do something drastically different, will there still be someone there to listen to it if you change?”
“But I feel the role of an artist is to change, to constantly push forward and try and come up with something new. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life repeating my first few records so I decided I was going to do it.”
The result is a captivating 14-track album recorded on a pair of vintage microphones, which he had exhaustively searched for to replicate the mood of recordings from the Miles Davis era. Sound is of the utmost importance to him as a musician, producer and engineer.
The Blue Guitar Sessions is best enjoyed through a room-filling home stereo system – like the old days. A glass of shiraz next to the fireplace is optional.
“Broken Moon” features his extraordinary guitar accompanied by cellist Amy Laing while Tom Szczesniak adds accordion to “Witching Hour” a melodic composition hinting at Cook’s Parisian roots.
Toronto vocalist Emma-Lee makes an appearance on “I Put a Spell on You”, a cover of the song written by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and popularised by Nina Simone and Jeff Beck. Long time collaborator violinist Chris Church makes several appearances in just the right spots.
Audiences will soon discover how well The Blue Guitar Sessions translates to live performances. Cook is set to embark on a worldwide tour this September, beginning with European dates. A major Canadian tour will follow before he ventures south for a five-month U.S. tour, starting in January of 2013.
The live shows will include songs from more familiar work as well as material from the new album. Joining Cook on stage are the musicians that have become as familiar to fans as Cook himself: Chris Church, Rosendo “Chendy” Leon, Nicholas Hernandez and Dennis Mohammed.
“What I found is that the longer the five of us played together, we really gelled and had a sense of what our domains were. Each member grew within their domain to make it something really big. We all learned to fill our space.”
If Cook’s plate isn’t already full, August sees the airing of a new television special on select PBS stations in the U.S., a project which will surely expose his incredible musicality to a wider audience.
The sixty-minute concert footage was shot at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ontario in May, introduced at a PBS convention in Denver a few weeks later and rapidly gained momentum amongst programmers at the network stations. At present more than thirty stations – the number keeps growing – have signed on to air the production beginning in August 2012.
A new musical experimentation, a tour that will take him around the world, and now a television show are all indications that Jesse Cook’s career has reached a new artistic and globally-recognized level of success. One might say he has filled his space.
~Written by Paul Gains
Paul Gains is an international freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Time, The New York Times, GQ, NUVO, National Post and many other periodicals around the world.
CBCMusic.ca (Special feature)
September 17, 2012
Jesse Cook’s new album, The Blue Guitar Sessions, is out Sept. 18, and it’s already hit the sweet spot with many listeners, thanks in no small part to CBC Music's exclusive preview stream of the album. The stream is down now, but of course you can get the album yourself from iTunes.
Here are just a few things listeners to our exclusive stream had to say:
KayeIris: “You had me at the first 5 or 6 chords and I was in love by time the first track ended. Dinner waited downstairs so I could listen to all and then I hit replay. Oh my!”
ybg: “Continuing to grow is the mark of a musician who has a grasp of what he wants in his music. A hint of Wiel, a dash of Grappelli and Django, and a wisp of melodies not often heard. Good on ya Jesse.”
And good on ya Jesse Cook for sharing this shuffle playlist with us. He put his MP3 device on shuffle, and told us about the first five songs that popped up.
1. “People Like Me” http://static.music.cbc.ca/MISC/programuploads/itunes/iTunes_buyBtn.gif
“It was the lyrics to this song/rap which made me re-evaluate K'naan, moving him from 'extremely talented' to 'brilliant.'”
2. “Ain't No Rest For the Wicked”
Cage the Elephant
“Love the way this song starts out small and groovy, but then gets bigger and bigger.”
3. “A Whiter Shade of Pale”
“This song hooked me as a kid, I still love it, although I have no idea what he is singing about.”
“Just saw Duquende this spring at Koerner Hall. He had the great Jerez guitarist Diego de Morao with him.”
5. “Redemption Song”
“Bob Marley is one of those artists. Every song he recorded was perfect. Nothing false, nothing extraneous. And his recordings still sound great, even by today's standards.”
– Li RobbinsSHARE
The Montreal Gazette
September 16, 2012
On his eighth studio album, guitarist Cook steps away from his flamenco default and offers 15 moody, easylistening pieces, supposedly inspired by what he considered the spareness of Adele’s smash, 21. On the surface, the disc has an elevator-music smoothness that sends it receding into the background, but Cook’s relentless precision and perfect tonality on the nylon strings will not be denied. There’s an airy beauty to soft, atmospheric tracks like Diminished and Fields of Blue, with quiet blues (I Put a Spell on You), jazz (Miles Shorter) and bossa nova (Child’s Play) broadening the palette. Add the stirring, delicate interplay between Cook’s instrument and Chris Church’s violin and this aural sketchbook becomes an excursion filled with modest pleasures.
– Bernard PerusseSHARE
JESSE COOK LANDS PUBLIC TELEVISION SPECIAL
August 12, 2012
“JESSE COOK – LIVE IN CONCERT” DEBUTS ON AUGUST 12
Jesse Cook has a full plate with his eighth studio album, The Blue Guitar Sessions, to be released on September 18 in Canada (September 25 in the U.S.); a European tour; a twenty-date national Canadian tour to take place in November/December; and a sixty-date U.S. tour to take place in the new year. In addition, August will see the airing of a new television special on select Public Television stations in the U.S.
A project that will expose Cook’s extraordinary musicianship to a wider audience, “Jesse Cook – Live in Concert” debuts on Sunday, August 12 on WMHT in Albany, NY at 9:00pm. Jesse Cook will also make a special appearance on WMHT for an in-studio interview. Other Public Television stations that will feature in-studio interviews with Jesse Cook include:
- WLVT in Allentown, PA on August 14 at 7:00pm
- CPTV in Hartford, CT on August 14 at 10:00pm
- WQED/WQEX in Pittsburgh, PA on August 15 at 8:00pm
- KBDI in Denver, CO on August 16 at 7:00pm
- KBTC in Tacoma, WA on August 17 at 8:00pm
- WPBA in Atlanta, GA on August 18 at 10:00pm
The sixty-minute concert footage was shot at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ontario in May, introduced at a PBS convention in Denver a few weeks later and rapidly gained momentum amongst programmers at the network stations. More than thirty Public Television stations have signed on to broadcast the production that begins airing on August 12, 2012 and will continue through to December 2012.
“Jesse Cook – Live in Concert” will air in the following cities in the upcoming months: WPBA in Atlanta, MD PTV in Maryland, SC Net in South Carolina, KAWE and KAWB in Minneapolis, WGBY in Springfield, KNME in Albuquerque, KBDI in Denver, KAET in Phoenix, KUAT in Tucson, KNPB in Reno, WXEL in West Palm Beach and Miami, KOCE in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, KVCR in Palm Springs, WLVT in Allentown and Philadelphia, WTTW in Chicago, K32EO in Colorado, WTVS in Detroit, KBTC and KCKA in Seattle and Tacoma, WNPT in Nashville, CT PTV in Connecticut, WQED and WQEX in Pittsburgh, KLRN in San Antonio, KAMU in Waco, WMHT in Albany, and Oregon Net in Oregon.
For a sneak peek of “Jesse Cook – Live in Concert”, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcNvRWNzBKYSHARE
Jesse Cook Announces The Blue Guitar Tour – Canada 2012
May 28, 2012
Award-winning guitar phenomenon Jesse Cook is set to release his eighth studio album. The Blue Guitar Sessions will be released in Canada on September 18 and in the U.S. on September 25.
“I wanted to make a record that was more personal”, says Cook. “Something intimate with more space to it than my previous work, the kind of music that I would want to listen to after midnight. I guess you could call it my grown-up album.”
Based in Toronto, Jesse Cook has been recording and performing music internationally for over seventeen years. He is a JUNO Award-winning artist and three-time recipient of the Canadian Smooth Jazz Award for “Guitarist of the Year”. His previous release, The Rumba Foundation, debuted at #1 on iTunes Canada and the DVD for the release premiered on PBS.
The past two years have seen Cook tour extensively to sold-out crowds throughout the world, performing at both the Singapore and Dubai Jazz Festivals, the Cumbre Tajín Festival in Mexico, and electrifying audiences from the U.S. to Italy to Lebanon. With over one million album sales worldwide, Jesse Cook has spawned a truly global fan base
Following the release of The Blue Guitar Sessions, Jesse Cook will launch a twenty-date national tour. The dates are as follows:
|Saint John, NB
|The Fredericton Playhouse
|Rebecca Cohn Auditorium
|Centre In The Square
|National Arts Centre
|Wilfrid-Pelletier Place Des Arts
|Quebec City, QC
|Grand Théâtre De Quebec
|Trois Rivières, QC
|Théâtre Du Cégep
|Pantages Playhouse Theatre
|TCU Place – Sid Buckwold Theatre
|Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
|Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
|Kamloops Convention Centre
|Qualicum Beach, BC
See the Tours page for more info.SHARE
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.
The master of Latin rhythms will be taking a live television special during the Brampton concert, which takes place on the theatre’s main stage. The television special will focus on
Cook’s upcoming album The Blue Guitar and will be targeted for Bravo! in Canada and PBS in the U.S. Cook said his team also plans to use some of the footage in music videos for his newer songs.
“We were looking all over southern Ontario for a theatre which met our requirements. Because of the cameras, we needed a certain size, not too big or it would look cavernous, not too small and with the amenities of a world class hall, so we could fly screens and backdrops for the projections and special effects we have planned,” explained Cook.
“Having shot my first two PBS Specials at the Montreal Jazz Festival, I really felt it was time for a change. I really wanted to shoot this one here in Ontario, where I live and where I got my start.”
Cook has recorded seven studio albums in the last 15 years with his latest recording reflecting his Cuban roots. This special engagement, at the Rose Theatre, means Cook and his team will bring “a much grander show” to the Rose Theatre stage than ever before.
“There will be full screen projections and special guests, Canadian chanteuse Emma-Lee, among them,” he said. Also, those in the audience will have a good shot of appearing in some of the footage, as there will be many cameras throughout the audience.
In addition to new material from The Blue Guitar, cook promises to play a range of songs from his popular repertoire.
Ticket packages to this special performance range in price from $59.50 to $99.50, and offer special opportunities such as autographed posters, copies of his CD and a post-show reception.
For more call 905-874-2800 or visit www.rosetheatre.ca or www.jessecook.com.
– Ashley GoodfellowSHARE