The story generally told about how French-born, Canadian-raised guitarist Jesse Cook initially got interested in playing flamenco music is that as a young lad he was captivated by the sounds of the French flamenco master Manitas de Plata in his parents’ record collection, and he wanted to recreate what he was hearing.
Cook started playing quite early, and was studying flamenco as well as the classical side of things at the Eli Kassner Guitar Academy in Toronto by the time he was 6. His musical education continued at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and New York University. It was during his time at Berklee, though, that his musical explorations went way beyond classical.
It was there that, after spending years fingerpicking on nylon strings, he made the switch to steel strings, a Les Paul electric guitar, and a whole new world of playing jazz and rock, as well as using a pick. Then he took the transition even further, majoring in music synthesis, learning to develop new sounds and textures using a computer.
All of that leads up to the idea that calling Cook a guitarist or even a flamenco guitarist isn’t quite accurate. It would be better to go with “nuevo flamenco guitarist,” meaning that seeing him in concert today, you would hear not only traditional flamenco — featuring lightning-fast strumming, intricate fingerpicking, and the use of a plectrum when he feels it’s right — but also tastes of jazz, rumba, blues, a bit of pop, various examples of world music and, of course, classical. One more accolade: He’s also a talented composer, arranger, and producer.
Yet there will be some surprises even for longtime devotees of Cook’s playing at his Cary Hall show. His most recent album, though still featuring his nylon string work and a ballad or two, also shows off a funkier side with percussion-driven upbeat songs (check out “Updraft” and “Jaleo”).
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