It’s been more than 20 years since guitarist virtuoso Jesse Cook hit the Canadian music scene with his refreshing world-inspired sound.
But even with the benefit of an international fanbase, numerous awards, and nine studio albums, accounting for more than one million records sold worldwide, Cook – performing at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre on Thursday evening – is good-naturedly waiting for this amazing ride to come to an end.
“With every album I make, I am constantly thinking to myself, ‘Okay, it’s over’,” Cook says with a laugh. “I undertake upwards of 140 shows in support of an album, then essentially become a hermit by going into the studio to make a new record. By the time the recording process is done, I just think about how long it’s been since I’ve been in front of a crowd, and how people probably just won’t care about what I am doing anymore. I go through this nerve-wracking exercise with every new record.”
Fortunately for Cook – and for his thousands of fans in all corners of the globe – the musician hasn’t lost his shine yet. His most recent studio effort, 2015’s One World, held the number one position on Amazon’s New Age sales charts for more than 57 consecutive weeks.
This phenomenon isn’t strictly relegated to One World, either. Cook’s previous two records – 2009’s The Rumba Foundation and The Blue Guitar Sessions (2012) – each debuted in the prestigious number one position on the charts upon initial release as well.
“How does this happen? I’m just some guy that has been playing a nylon string guitar for the last 20 years. It’s nothing short of a miracle,” he says, incredulously.
While Cook’s music has literally and figuratively taken him all across the world, One World could be seen as the culmination of those experiences. Acknowledging that the influence of guitar greats like John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia as well as the music of the long-running Gypsy Kings was prevalent in his earlier works, Cook has long since settled into a groove that allows his unique personality to shine through the material.
“In a lot of ways, I feel every one of my records informs the next release. When I first started making music, you could really hear my influences coming through. As I was growing though, I began stepping back and not wanting to travel down those same paths. It’s very much a matter of, ‘I’ve said that already. What else can I say with my music?’ With the release of every studio record, I’ve forced myself to move on and find something new to say via my songs.”
One World serves as a prime example that Cook has much to say yet. The record could be viewed as one of the most simplistic yet simultaneously advanced works in his celebrated catalogue, in which the guitarist relies upon technology in ways he had not necessarily employed on previous efforts.
He says the move proved to be invigorating.
“In employing a loop station while making this record, I was forced to simplify the whole recording process. When I make albums, I tend to over-produce and go all Phil Spector-like,” Cook laughs, referring to Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound” production technique.
“Making One World helped me realize that some of my favourite recordings ever are those which boast limited instrumentation and aren’t all that busy. With those types of albums, it is the space that makes the listening experience so special.”
Citing Miles Davis’ 1959 masterpiece Kind of Blue as one of the penultimate examples of how less can be more for the listener, Cook insists that Davis bucked the notion of playing jazz merely to dazzle others with his abilities.
“A lot of jazz is calculated to impress others by flaunting capabilities, but if you look at Kind of Blue or ‘Round About Midnight, the music was just so simple and so beautiful. People that show no interest in jazz as a genre appreciate those albums because of that simplicity. To me, that connecting with people’s emotions is the true mark of greatness. People love to kick around the idea that Kanye West is a genius, but I’m not so sure about that,” Cook laughs again.
Cook’s broaching of West as subject matter is particularly compelling, and not just because he and the infamous rapper have so little in common. Career longevity is a matter of pride – and fact – for Cook, where a significant amount of today’s artists will be fortunate to be remembered for their music over the next decade.
However long Cook’s ride lasts, though, his mission remains unfaltering:
“When I go into the recording studio, I want to be making music that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. If you look at artists like The Beatles, Madonna or Miles Davis; those are the artists whose career lasts a lifetime. I’m not lumping myself into the same group as them by any means. They are simply what I aspire to be: an artist that keeps coming up with music to keep people tuned in to the music I am making.”
What: Jesse Cook
When: Thursday June 9, 8 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
Tickets start at $49 plus service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone (506) 856-4379 and online at www.capitol.nb.ca