By Steve Newton
Last week I scored a copy of the new CD from Canadian nuevo-flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook, One World, and before even cracking it open I got a nice surprise.
The track listing on the back cover revealed the inclusion of one featuring Tommy Emmanuel, the Australian fingerstyle guitarist who just four days earlier had blown me right away with a mind-boggling show at the Vogue.
Psyched to hear Cook and Emmanuel trading nylon- and steel-string licks, respectively, I fast forwarded to Track 7, “Tommy and Me”. At the four-minute mark you can hear Emmanuel, evidently pleased at the six-string exchange, blurt out “Ha-ha!” Pretty good results for a session separated by three weeks and 10,000 miles or so.
“His schedule’s crazy,” says Cook from his Toronto home, “so it was one of those virtual collaborations where you email off the tracks and then he emails me back, three takes of his. Over the years I’ve done that a fair amount, and normally when an artist sends you three takes they’re trying to work something out, flesh out some idea, and each take is kinda similar.
“But with Tommy they were just three completely different ideas, approaches, everything—techniques. I don’t know, I think that guy is just a creativity tap. He turns it on and whoosh, out it comes. It was one of those things where I almost thought, ‘I should release three versions of this song, one with each solo.’ They’re so amazing.”
The songs on One World that don’t boast Tommy Emmanuel on guitar aren’t too shabby either. With titles like “Taxi Brazil”, “Bombay Slam”, and “Steampunk Rickshaw”, it’s evident that Cook’s desire to embrace world music is still strong.
“That’s always sort of been my gig,” notes the 50-year-old picker, who plays Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre on June 4. “I think if you start at the beginning of my career, with Tempest and Gravity, those first couple of records you could really hear my influences. It probably sounded a lot like the Gipsy Kings and a little bit of Peter Gabriel mixed in for adventure.
“But it’s one of those things where, once you’ve done those records, you kinda go, ‘Okay, I’ve said what I have to say in this genre and I want to try something new.’ And so in each subsequent record you’d see that I’ve kinda taken it somewhere else. On Nomad I went to Cairo and recorded with musicians there, and there’s definitely a strong Middle Eastern feel to that record. And on Rumba Foundation I went down to South America and started working with musicians from Colombia, kind of exploring the roots of rumba flamenca.”
For One World, Cook says that he “wanted to pull the focus back” for a more global, and timeless, perspective. For instance, in certain spots the Armenian duduk, one of the oldest instruments in the world, sits comfortably on a bed of industrial noises and electronic loops.
“For me there was something very compelling about that,” he says. “It got the hair standing up on the back of my neck now and then.”