Sunday 25 April 2010

Friday 23 April 2010

Jesse Cook: at Work and Play

Jesse Cook: at Work and Play
by Bernard C. Cormier

This weekend, internationally renowned musician Jesse Cook will return to Moncton for two shows at the Capitol Theatre.

"For quite a long time, we've had a really nice reaction in Moncton and it's always fun to do shows there", said Cook, who gained fame as a flamenco guitarist on (mostly) instrumental recordings usually found in World Music and New Age sections of music stores.

"There's really kind of a...I don't know if it's that French/English-thing because we get the same kind of reaction in Montreal. I find that, early on, people in Montreal had that connection to the music, which was really exciting to us as performers.

"Since it has happened in Moncton as well, I've sort of contributed it to cities where there are two languages in "full flower," you know, in the same place and somehow those people are used to cultural cross-pollination. That kind of music that pollinates two different styles of music together and sees what kind of fruit you bear. It's been good."

Although he initially captured the attention of his fans with what's usually classified as "Nuevo Flamenco," his recordings have evolved to include elements of other musical styles. That approach was consciously put in a metaphorical spotlight for his most recent album, The Rumba Foundation (2009).

The album, his eighth studio recording, is a concept album due to its experimental approach of merging specific types of world music into a sonic hybrid. It was recorded in Colombia with musicians originating from countries as diverse as Cuba, Brazil, and the United States.

The album received a warm welcome from fans. So welcoming, his band and an ensemble of guest musicians performed for 70,000 people at the Montréal Jazz Festival. Much of the performance was edited into a DVD, also titled The Rumba Foundation (2010), which intercuts it with footage documenting the album's production and other visuals.

"There were a lot of people, coming on and off stage for different songs and, honestly, there were times when I felt more like a ringmaster. I was trying to keep in my head "What are we doing? What comes next? Who do I introduce? What key is it in? know, that sort of thing. It seemed like there were a million things I was trying to keep straight in my mind!"

His own background is as uniquely cultured and diverse as the music he makes.

Born in Paris, Jesse moved to Canada as a child with his sister and television producer mother when his parents divorced. His father was photographer and filmmaker John Cook (1935-2001). Although a Canadian, his father adopted Europe as his home. He directed four feature length films: Ich schaff's einfach nimmer (1973), Langsamer Sommer (co-directed; 1976), Schwitzkasten (Clinch; 1978), and Artischocke (1982).

"I was never on his film sets," Jesse says. "My sister did (go on them). She went and spent a summer working as an assistant on one of his films. My mom was a television producer. As kids, we spent just days and days and days in the editing room where, after school, we'd hang out while she finished editing or something and then we'd go home with her."

"There's lots of artists in my family but my sister's a lawyer, actually," Jesse says. "I have a lot of friends who, when they told their parents (that) they were going to become musicians, their parents were disapproving and didn't support them in their decision. My family is the opposite. We've got a bunch of artsy-fartsies and when my sister told my dad she was going to be a lawyer, he said "Oh, that's pathetic! That's so pretty bourgeois!," he recalls, laughing.

"That seemed strange to me. I think most parents would be so proud that their daughter would become a lawyer, you know. Only my crazy, artsy family...

"My cousin was a ballet dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. My uncle is an artist and his work is in the National Gallery in Ottawa and he won the Governor General Award, so there are lots of artists in the family! As a kid growing up, it was really inspiring to be in the milieu."

It should come as no surprise that his creative urges extend beyond music.

"In recent years, I've become enamored with photography," he says. "My dad was a photographer; my uncle, for a period, was a photographer; my sister at UofT was photo editor of the school paper. There's certainly a lot of interest in cameras and photography in the family.

"I always avoided it, like the plague, because I thought that area was too covered! There are too many good photographers around and they're just going to be judging my work if I pick up a camera.

"I never did until a few years ago. My dad had passed away, my sister had become a lawyer, my uncle was no longer doing photography, and suddenly it seemed like the field had opened. I bought a DSLR and started taking pictures. I really enjoy it!

"When you're travelling around the world, there comes a point when you've been travelling so long that you stop looking out the window! You forget just how fantastic an experience like travel can be because you're doing it all the time. Photography gave me a reason to do that -- to look out the window, to go out of my hotel when I would arrive somewhere I've never been and take pictures.

"I enjoy the fact that I don't have to make a living from it. It allows me to really just do it for the love of it and not feel in any way obligated to go out and shoot (photos of things)."

While in Moncton, he'll be mixing business, pleasure...and family.

His wife, a dancer, is also touring with him and accompanying them are their children. An absence of shows for two days between the Fredericton stop (Tuesday) and the first date in Moncton (tonight) will create a sort of family vacation.

"Yeah, on our time off, we're going to actually go down to Fundy National Park and (his wife) got a whole bunch of things that she wants to do. I think that she wants to go to the Train Museum and Magnetic Hill and all of that stuff!" he says with a burst of laughter.

"We're going to bring the kids and have a bit of a camp-out!"

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010