Superlative guitarist Jesse Cook offers up more of his musical mastery on his latest project The Blue Guitar Sessions.
Fans can check out his skills when he plays the Memorial Centre Feb. 28. Released in 2012, The Blue Guitar Sessions is Cook’s eighth studio CD – and he wanted to do something different on this particular outing.
The disc was recorded on a pair of vintage microphones which he had searched for to replicate the mood of recordings from the Miles Davis era.
“I wanted to make a record that was more personal,” says Cook. “So I took my style of playing and put it into more of a ‘blue’ context. You know those kinds of records you put on and every track has this kind of melancholy? There’s no dance tracks,” he adds with a laugh. “I like that music where it sounds like the whole thing takes place at two in the morning.”
Spending the summer of 2011 cottage hopping with his family, Cook set about writing for The Blue Guitar Sessions. “I was feeling kind of guilty about leaving work to go on vacation,” he recalls. “I thought if I write a song everyday 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.”
Like millions the world over, Cook got his hands on a copy of Adele’s 21 and played it excessively. But he saw something that few did, something which emboldened him to tackle a personal objective and create a ‘blue mood’ record.
“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.
“Some of the tracks are just piano played by an actual musician – not just sequenced on a computer, and her singing. And maybe they’ll throw in some strings for good measure.”
Meanwhile, joining Cook on stage for the current tour are the musicians that have become as familiar to fans as Cook himself: Chris Church, Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon, Nicholas Hernandez and Dennis Mohammed.
The Toronto resident, who was born in Paris, heard plenty of flamenco-styled tunes during his formative years, and his own passion for playing guitar surfaced when he was just three. He started lessons at six.
“The influence of that type of music hit me at a very early age.”
His father later settled in the south of France, and Cook would visit him in his teens. He continued to soak up rumba flamenco music as his own musical gifts surfaced.
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 Players’ Choice Awards behind the legendary Paco De Lucia.
But as mentioned, Cook has steered clear of anything resembling flamenco on this record, producing a sound that allows listeners to appreciate each musician’s contribution. “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 ‘less is more’ approach also requires a certain kind of discipline. When I’m making music, it’s easy to be seduced by a certain kind of musical thrill that comes from a really great groove.”
Keeping things relatively simple – where there is ‘space’ between the notes – can be tough. “For the longest time, I was a ‘more is more’ kind of a guy.”
Cook has never been wary of melding sounds to create a unique blend for each project. “I’ve always been somebody who has created hybrids, so I’ll take rumba flamenco and mix it with salsa, meringue or Arabic to create something new.
“I should also say that flamenco is part of what I play, but I also went to Berkley which is a jazz school and went to a conservatory in Canada, and I studied classical music as a kid so I have these different influences in my playing,” he said.
“Really, I’m interested in creating sounds I’ve never heard before.”
For tickets, check out www.blackknightinn.ca or call 403-755-6626 or toll free 1-800-661-8793.