Jesse Cook's Global Flamenco Electronica.
Jesse Cook’s latest album, One World, starts off with three tracks you’d expect on a Jesse Cook CD. Palmas and percussion beat out a familiar rumba groove on “Shake,” the melody etched by his hard-edged picking. There’s a Latin groove on “Taxi Brazil” and on “Once” he slips into the languid ballad mode he does so well, his sea breeze guitar melody underpinned by orchestral strings, taking a journey down shadowed Mediterranean alleys.
Cook, however, is a musician who frequently experiments with expectations and explores new sounds, and he does that a lot on One World. The Canadian musician came to renown with his debut album, Tempest, in 1995 riding in on the coattails of Nouveau Flamenco pioneer Ottmar Liebert and bands like The Gipsy Kings who he jammed with as a teenager. But Cook always had his own sound, one that that has morphed and migrated over the course of two decades and several albums.
Never a pure Flamenco player by any stretch, he’s always searched for new fusions, including working with Arabic music on Vertigo, Cuban musicians, Afro Celt Sound System and pop singers on The Blue Guitar Sessions. So the global music influence on One World isn’t anything new. What is different is that the album was built in the studio, with Cook programming electronic percussion loops and instruments and slicing them up into songs. He creates a 21st century global music of the imagination, but one still infused with brilliant musicianship.
He gives hints of things to come on “Bombay Slam,” a downtempo Indian electronica track with rattling percussion, stuttering effects, Bollywood strings and snarling synth bass. Cook runs through eastern melodies like he’s playing the sarod instead of guitar.
After that, “To Your Shore” is almost a -don’t worry, it’s still me- track. It’s another ballad, backlit by smoky, mellotron-sounding flutes. It’s just a little on edge, with percussion that hovers on the border of electronic and acoustic.
“Tommy & Me”
Chris Church, Cook’s longtime violinist, brings some beautifully carved lines to this album, but he also learned to play the Armenian reed instrument called the duduk specifically for this project, not an easy task. He definitely listened to some Djivan Gasparyan to inspire that sound of lamentation.
On the back half of the album, Cook hits the overdrive button and rockets into new terrain, beginning with a duet with finger-style giant, Tommy Emmanuel, who actually flat-picks on this song. It’s not the simple two-guitar duel you’d expect. Cook has programmed an ominous electronic percussion groove, topping it with a Morricone-style spaghetti western guitar riff that he and Emmanuel both expound upon.
Cook’s balladry takes a different form on “When Night Falls,” this time over an insistent electronic rhythm, as Cook effects a Middle Eastern mood. “Steampunk Rickshaw” is by far the darkest and most energized track, beginning with deep, ominous percussion and bass while Chris Church plays a lament on the duduk. When the groove slips into a steady gear, Cook lays in a rock-like rhythmic riff, layered with Bollywood strings and a Middle Eastern percussion section.
“Beneath Your Skin” is a deceptive piece that starts out on a slow desert caravan before Church plays the duduk with a Moroccan wail. That signals a change of direction from a slow, camel clop to a full desert dervish. It’s a breathtaking, cinematic excursion that brings this album to a peak before resting on another serene ballad, “Breath.”
Jesse Cook is a formidable guitarist, but one reason he’s had such longevity as a vital musician is that he’s also a good composer, willing to stretch his core sound into uncharted territory. He brings that all together on One World.