Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Canadian World Frontiers

By Jesse Cook
Koch Records

No disrespect to Jesse Cook, but ordinarily I would not pick up a disk with this cover. It just looks too “sensitive singer-songwriter” for my tastes. Fortunately, the back photo of Cook’s guitar in close-up is a better depiction of the contents, as Cook’s music is more gypsy camp than Chelsea Hotel. The Canadian Cook’s latest, Frontiers (on-sale domestically today), is a pleasing set of flamenco-rumba that while not exactly jazz per se, will often appeal to jazz ears.

As a youth, Cook discovered the guitar while living in the Camargue region of France. Later, he would immerse himself in Seville, the fount of flamenco. Since then, he has played jazz festivals and opened for countryman Diana Krall. His label categorizes Cook as world music, which is probably a good enough rubric for the various styles and traditions he synthesizes.

Cook has tremendous technique, heard to best effect on what he refers to as “upbeat rumba flamenco,” for which he has already achieved a good following. Frontiers is actually considered a bit of a departure by including slower pieces. However, Cook is still at his strongest here on such flamenco swingers like “Matisse the Cat” (great title) and “Vamos.” While still not really jazz, these tunes sound closest in tone to the flamenco-jazz fusions of Louis Winsberg.

Although Frontiers would have benefited from more such high-octane selections, there are some nice late-night Latin flavored pieces like “CafĂ© Mocha” and “Havana.” At times there is an overly new age-ish sound on some tunes, like “Rain” and “El Cri.” However, the rumba version of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” is a nice surprise. A great arrangement, it is one of those commercial guest vocalist features—in this case for Canadian Melissa McClelland—that really does work.

Always pleasant, Frontiers is best when Cook displays his fiery chops to full effect. Given his frequent jazz fest bookings, jazz listeners will likely be hearing more from him in the future. More often than not, they should dig his impressive facility for flamenco.