String fusion theory
Dexterous guitarist Jesse Cook blends the sounds of his world travels
There are two kinds of musicians, according to Jesse Cook: Those who work to master one genre, and those who learn the rules and break them to create something new.
“I am firmly in the second camp,” Cook says. His cool façade might fool you, but Cook wasn’t always a rule-breaker. Ten albums and 22 years ago, Cook stayed within the lines of rumba and flamenco. By his third album, he was craving something new, so he experimented by mixing genres from all over the world.
Cook’s latest album, 2017’s Beyond Borders, showcases this adventurous blend. The song “Beyond Borders” is reminiscent of a mellowed-out Bollywood musical number with a strong flamenco essence, akin to Ottmar Liebert. The album’s lead single, “Double Dutch,” features an Argentinian undertone with hand-clapping that’s upbeat enough for a workout jam. But it’s Cook’s effortless finger-picking that displays his true talent.
“I was drawing on a fusion of flamenco guitar from Southern Spain mixed together with a Latin and urban groove,” Cook says.
It is no surprise that Cook enjoys mixing music from different regions. He was born in France and moved to Canada when he was 4. Cook and his wife have lived in Seville, Spain, and he has traveled to record in London, Louisiana, Columbia and Cairo.
Cook always switches up his songwriting process. “If I wrote the same way each time, I’d end up writing the same music,” he says.
His album Nomad focuses on his travels, while The Blue Guitar Sessions are dedicated to a melancholic quietness. For this last one, Cook went into a cottage alone with his guitar to write. Solitude? Check.
Most recently, Cook has been combining the ancient with the modern. “I’ve been tinkering with looping technology, mixing urban sounds with ancient instruments like the Armenian duduk,” Cook says.
The duduk is a double-reed woodwind said to date back 1,500 years. Despite its obscure name, odds are you’ve heard this instrument: Avatar or Gladiator soundtrack, anyone?
Though chances of sighting the duduk are slim at the Crest Theatre Friday, February 16, Cook will share the stage with other instrumentalists including violinist Chris Church—someone he’s played with for over 16 years. Cook is also bringing his dexterous finger-picking to the stage.
“On my records, you’ll find there isn’t a lot of [fingerpicking], but virtuosity gives an extra pop to the show,” Cook says.
Let’s just say your ears—and eyes—won’t be shocked to know he’s been playing the guitar since he was 6. Cook’s fast fingers tell the whole story, and he is excited to bring them back to Sacramento since his last tour visit in 2016 at the Crest.
To Cook, the California sun is a big warm plus coming from Toronto, but it’s the way of life that draws him: “It is a very amazing and forward-thinking place,” he says. “The way people look at innovation and experimentation, I really like it.”
So Cook’s style should be welcome. Here’s to breaking and making things.