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Volume 90, Issue 94
Friday, March 21, 1997
Cooking up a worldly brew
©Jim Allen/Narada Media
HE MAY PLAY GUITAR, BUT THE BALANCING ACT WILL BRING THE HOUSE DOWN. Jesse Cook and his acoustic guitar.
By Jory Groberman
Waking up to realize music is a universal language will be worth your while. This may come as a surprise, but good music does come from places other than North America or the U.K. Artists like Jesse Cook are helping to erase the borders that trap the wandering spirit of music.
Though a flamenco guitarist by trade, Cook does not adhere to the strict tradition. Instead, he introduces his flamenco style to African, Latin and jazz and more traditional pop rhythms. That successful marriage is heard on his latest release, Gravity.
"The pop format I often use helps to make my songs more accessible to those who might not be as familiar with world music sounds," he says.
Cook was born in Paris but moved to Toronto at an early age. As a child he studied classical guitar but when maturity hit, his passion for flamenco sucked him back to Europe. He studied in Spain and France, eventually landing himself a gig with the heroes of MuchMusic's ClipTrip, the Gipsy Kings.
Back in North America, Cook began composing and scoring everything he could get his calloused fingers on, from dance theatre to Schwarzenegger-type films.
His big break came when the TV Listings Channel picked up a song off his first album to repeat ad nauseam. Aspiring musicians take note: every Ontario TV watcher that cared to find out what shows were coming up was bombarded with his song. The switchboard at the TV Listings Channel went crazy with people calling to find out the name of the song. The TV Listings Channel had probably never received a phone call before.
Sometimes, artists receive their fame under unexpected headings. While Cook calls his music "rumba flamenco world beat jazz pop," Billboard ignored all these possible categories and charted his first album under the New Age heading, where it remained for an entire year.
"I don't particularly consider my music to be new age," Cook says. "I'd prefer to see it under the world beat category."
Cook shares this categorization problem with other worldbeat influenced artists like Ottmar Liebert; because their music draws on variant styles, it is difficult to pigeon-hole. I say we keep their music out of the pigeon's hole and widen our categories.
Gravity is an instrumentally solid album, with Cook's technical ability overshadowed only by his tasteful sense of melody. The rhythms are nicely layered and Cook's band complements him well. He even scored Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon's legendary bassist Tony Levin for a number of tracks. Any self-respecting world beat fan has a shrine to Peter Gabriel in their home, office or car. As Cook says, working with Levin was a "dream come true."
Songs on this album range from the mood of a haunting Mediterranean night with "Into the Dark," to a skippy song about a delicious Italian soft drink in "Brio." The album works as romantic background music while you sit naked and sip fruity things on the balcony of your villa in the south of France. It also works as a transcendent aid in helping to imagine a tropical vacation while freezing your kahunas off in London, Ont.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997