IN CONCERT: Jesse Cook
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: $60.50 (limited availability)
Jesse Cook always goes to the source when it comes to channeling his musical influences.
For his 2003 album Nomad, the Paris-born, Toronto-raised flamenco guitarist travelled to Cairo and worked with Egyptian musicians. For the 2009 effort The Rumba Foundation, he journeyed to Colombia and mixed traditional vallenato folk musicians into the fold.
“It brought to the project a whole new palette of sounds and colours,” Cook, 48, said of The Rumba Foundation. “It changed the way I played, because I was trying to mix with them, and it probably changed the way they played, because they were trying to mix with me.”
That experience continues to stoke the fire inside Cook, whose tour of Canada stops Friday at the Royal Theatre.
A similar sense of exploration inhabits the guitarist’s eighth studio album, The Blue Guitar Sessions, which arrived in September.
At first, Cook set out to make another record with his fiery guitar playing as the bedrock. But as he began writing and recordings songs in that familiar vein, he found himself simultaneously constructing a mellower set of songs on the side.
“I started off making two records, the big, loud, bombastic record people were expecting me to make, and a second bunch of songs that were all kind of blue,” Cook said.
“That was the exercise I had to go through, in order to decide it was OK, to give myself permission. I had to hear the two options side by side.”
The two projects eventually came to a head. To help him with the tough decision, he called in his Vancouver-based manager, Paul Mercs, a music industry veteran with extensive knowledge on such matters.
Mercs said he loved Plan B, which sent Cook off in his new and blue direction. “That was all the validation I needed.”
The idea to write and record a selection of songs steeped in melancholy had been kicking around since long before The Rumba Foundation, Cook said. He always had a desire to make an album similar in sound to many of his favourite records, ones that “create a mood.” Records like Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Norah Jones’s Come Away With Me and Bebel Gilberto’s Tanto Tempo.
“I have songs that are quiet and a bit melancholy but I had never actually committed a whole record to that,” Cook said.
“For me, that’s what keeps music forever interesting. As long as you keep exploring and try to do things you’ve never heard before, it’s always going to be a a great challenge, and a fun challenge.”
Cook has been playing the guitar for more than 40 years, the past 17 as a professional. He has played seriously since he was four, and attended some of the most prestigious academies of music along the way, including the Eli Kassner Guitar Academy, the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
Since the release of his debut, Tempest, in 1995, he has been ranked among the most in-demand flamenco guitarists going. He has won a Juno (to go along with 11 nominations) and in 2008 placed second behind Paco de Lucia in Acoustic Guitar magazine’s Players’ Choice Awards.
Despite the accolades, Cook noticed himself becoming restless as time wore on. “I don’t want to sit still. I want to keep moving forward. That’s the great thing about music. It’s an ever-evolving artform.”
With so much going right in his life — in addition to his successful career as musician, Cook has two children with his wife, dancer Nancy Cardwell — it was difficult to find something solemn to write about for The Blue Guitar Sessions.
Not one to rely wholly on cover songs, despite the inclusion on Blue of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas and Screaming Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell On You, Cook knew he would have to write at least a dozen songs specifically for the recording.
To help facilitate the process, he made the unusual decision of taking a relaxing lakeside holiday with his family. The decision was a masterstroke. Cook said he managed to write a song a day.
“The irony of this blue record is that they are all slightly sad songs, and yet, I was very happy when I wrote the record. The music came really that way.”
In the eyes of some, Cook is an incorrigible rule-breaker. It’s a view that has everything to do with Fall at Your Feet, the Crowded House hit that Cook made his own (with help from Danny Wilde of The Rembrandts) in 2000.
Cook gave up years ago trying to convince flamenco purists he was for real, focusing instead on further impressing his true followers.
“There are many people, especially in the world of flamenco, who feel very committed to honouring the artform and protecting the artform. I certainly respect and understand their feelings about that, but that’s not how I see the role of an artist.”
For more stories in Thursday's Go! section: http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment
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