For guitarist extraordinaire Jesse Cook, crafting his incredibly rich tapestry of music has always been something of a journey. He plays the Memorial Centre on Nov. 20th.
“Over the years, I’ve taken my music and tried to cross-pollinate it with music from different parts of the world,” explains the 50-year-old global-guitar virtuoso. “For the (2003) album Nomad, I went to Cairo and recorded with musicians there. On my (2009) record The Rumba Foundation, I went to Colombia, and worked with musicians from Cuba as well. On (1998’s) Vertigo, I went down to Lafayette, Louisiana and recorded with Buckwheat Zydeco.
“For me, the question has always been – where did you go? Where did you take your guitar?”
For his latest – One World – he didn’t venture far, however. The CD, released in the spring of 2015, continues to break new ground, which is hardly surprising as every single project this guy has released has done pretty much the same thing.
“We did 140 shows last year,” he explains during a recent chat. “It was really intense touring – probably the most intense touring we have ever done. And it’s great – that’s what you want to do; make hay while the sun shines.”
The band wrapped up that stint of touring this past spring, and Cook had most of this summer to work on material for an upcoming project. And so continued his unrelenting creative process – hitting the road with gusto and then hibernating to the relative solitude of studio life to compose and begin to shape a batch of new songs.
“That’s kind of the ebb and flow of my life – I go out and tour and then I go bury myself in the studio. I go from being incredibly extroverted and being in front of 1,000 people every night to being totally by myself like a hermit! Shifting gears, it just catches me every time.
“Composing by nature ‘being in solitude’ kind of thing. You just sit there by yourself – you can’t really get together with your friends and have beers,” he adds with a laugh. “You need to be alone, and focus on what you are doing.
“And then playing live, you have to do that with your friends! Things change every night. Somebody does something different and you react to it or the audience gets up and dances so you change a bit of the drum section or whatever – so that’s fun, too, in a totally different way. In the studio you can be meticulous but ‘live’ – whatever happens, happens. There is no taking it back.”
For One World, he stayed home in his studio and instead of a foreign legion of performers, he relied on his own devices. He also chose to essentially meld an array of styles from flamenco, classical, rumba, world beat and pop to blues and jazz.
“The idea is that there really is just one world. If you pull your focus back far enough, you start to see all music as being branches of the same tree. They’re all connected to the same trunk from way back,” he said. “For example, my strange way of playing guitar is a hybrid of styles. I was a classical guitarist as a kid, and I studied flamenco and then I studied jazz. So there are three musical and guitar traditions in my background.”
As pointed out in his bio, One World launched another chapter – he incorporated technology more than ever before.
Part of the inspiration to do so came from one of his kids. He said his boy is always trying to get on the computer.
“I started going, ‘Wow, what’s that? What are you doing? Let me in there!’ I started writing tunes using weird loops and metallic and electronic sounds. And I found myself interested in taking what I do and putting it in a more modern context. I’ve leaned heavily on ancient instruments. But for this record, I put those instruments side by side with modern sounds — unabashedly so.”
It’s amazing how well the two actually fit together.
“I actually majored in music synthesis at Berkley – I minored in guitar performance,” he explains. “I definitely wanted to be a concert guitarist, but a bit part of what I was doing was writing and recording. Back in the 80s, the recording department was still using tape.” Computers were obviously miles away from where they are today.
“People were thinking that someday, everything is going to be done on those computers,” he said. “I knew that that’s where music would be happening – on the computer. So I’ve always used computer technology, and always been really into synthesizers and all of that. But also, in my music, I tended to keep it in the background – I wanted the organic instruments in the foreground.”
As the years have passed, computers are more and more a part of our lives – and that extends to creative ventures as well.
“People are used to computers being a means of expression,” he said. “It has become this integral part of human expression and I wanted to give it a voice in what I was doing.
“I’ve more realized that it’s okay to have electronic sounds in the mix,” he said. “There are some ancient instruments, and there are some super modern electronic sounds in it,” he added, referring to his latest project. “It’s all swirling together like a big stew.
“I wanted to make what I was doing feel like Constantinople, the ancient city that existed between the east and the west. It was the meeting point of all these great cultures — Africa, Europe, Asia, India. I want my music to be that place – the Constantinople of sound. A place where ancient sounds meet with modern ones and pass though that port.
“My feeling is that music is the universal language – not only between different cultures, but between different time periods. We listen to Bach – and think that this is incredibly beautiful music. Music just talks to us directly – there is no need for translation. That is fascinating to me.”
For tickets, check out www.blackknightinn.ca.