Jesse Cook News

Jazz Fest concert review: Jesse Cook at Maison Symphonique

Canadian acoustic guitar viruoso Jesse Cook. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTECanadian acoustic guitar viruoso Jesse Cook. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE

When Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook stepped on the Maison Symphonique stage on Thursday night, there was a brief moment of confusion among audience members: either an imposter had sauntered in or his characteristic wavy long locks had been trimmed.

Any and all doubts were quickly erased when Cook’s equally famed fingers began dancing on the strings of his acoustic guitar. It was clear there would be no Samson moment for the 50-year-old.

“If you’re not sure, it’s me. I cut my hair,” the affable Cook said after leaning back and letting his fingers do the talking for an introductory song. Before continuing, he took a few seconds to admire the four-year-old venue for the first time. “It has that new car smell,” he joked, before asking everyone to “not go formal” on him. They did not; this was the sort of energized Jazz Fest crowd that wanted to clap, and they did so with Cook’s full encouragement.

Cook is firmly entrenched as a jazz fest favourite, and his comfortable Spanish guitar-meets-world music formula was familiar to everyone present. He was almost apologetic about playing songs from his latest album, One World, even though they don’t represent a departure from his previous works. As far as surprises go, he performed one song solo with looping pedals, and presented it as a new technique he’s getting acquainted with.

“I spent two and a half years tinkering with loops,” he said in reference to One World. Otherwise, with a clean setup on a capacious stage — even the band’s monitors appeared to be replaced by laptops from my vantage point slightly behind them — Cook and his backing quartet filled the room with reverberating claps and stomps in addition to their drums, violin, two guitars and bass setup.

The drummer switched between regular western percussion, djembes and even a pair of frying pans in an effort to present each song with a different rhythmic identity. At times they contracted their setup even further, with the bandmates huddled around a single microphone or sitting at the front edge of the stage.

Cook was his typically laid-back self, impressing enough with his nimble non-puritanical flamenco guitar playing while never positioning himself as a overbearing virtuoso. It wasn’t a commanding performance emotionally or physically, so much as an unselfish one to allow for greater audience participation. The gambit paid off, based on how often the crowd rose from their seats and clapped along in unison.

Cook mostly went for humour when talking to the audience, although he saved his longest and most informative preamble, about Andalusian music pioneer Ziryab, for an older song of his: Baghdad from 1995’s Tempest.

The three covers Cook chose for his encore were as crowd-pleasing as they were uninspired. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” was an easy way to get the audience to resume clapping, while their stripped down version of “Fall At Your” Feet by Crowded House was done without microphones to a respectfully quiet room. The mystifying set closer, neo-folk turkey “Hey Ho” by soon-to-be one-hit wonders The Lumineers, ended the night on a forgettable note.

– The Gazette