Jesse Cook thinks the best of Crowded House is right up there with the best of the Beatles


By Steve Newton

Jesse Cook is the first to admit that Celtic music isn’t his forte, but that doesn’t mean he won’t give it a shot. The Toronto flamenco-pop guitarist got the opportunity to sit in with one of the genre’s legendary groups recently when he performed a few western Canadian gigs with the Chieftains. Cook says that those famed purveyors of Irish traditional music, whom he opened for at the Orpheum last month, were inclined to end their concerts with a free-for-all jam of sorts.

“They invite people from any city they’re in to come to the stage door just before the show,” he explains from his Hogtown home, “and if you show up with a guitar or whatever you’ve got—bagpipes, anything—they’ll invite you on to play. Usually they’ll play whatever is sort of agreed on backstage by the guests, and of course I don’t know anything about Celtic music, so I’m the guy back there going, ‘What is that?’ They’re sayin’ [puts on an Irish accent] ‘Oh, we’re gonna play “Do You Ever Go A-Courtin’, Uncle Joe?” ’ and you sort of go, ‘Gee I don’t know that one.’ So I was just trying to figure out what key we’re in.”

Cook will be a little more in his element when he returns to Vancouver with a six-piece band for a headlining appearance at the Vogue Theatre next Thursday (November 23). The 35-year-old player will be touring in support of his fourth CD, Free Fall, which, as well as his typical nouveau-flamenco-rumba-pop instrumentals, includes a version of Crowded House’s “Fall at Your Feet”. Cook had pondered having Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy sing the delicate tune, but, on the advice of a friend, singer-songwriter Marc Jordan, ended up having Danny Wilde of the Rembrandts do the vocals.

Cook says that he’s a big fan of Crowded House, but admits that he only came to fully appreciate the Aussie pop greats earlier this year, after picking up a copy of their Best of CD. “I just fell in love with it,” he says. “They’re really beautiful songs. I felt like the best of Crowded House is right up there with the best of the Beatles in terms of melodies. ‘Into Temptation’ was on there too, and that’s another song that I was thinking of doing, but there were so many options. And to cover a nonflamenco song and put kind of a rumba feel into it is a difficult thing. I mean, some stuff doesn’t work at all. I don’t know if ‘Vogue’ by Madonna would work particularly well.”

There’s a scary thought. But then, what about something like a rumba-flamenco version of Stevie Wonder’s funky “Superstition”? Cook actually recorded some demos of that oft-covered 1972 gem with Toronto vocalist Sarah Siddiqui, but the tune didn’t make it onto Free Fall. “She actually spent a fair amount of time working on ‘Superstition’,” notes Cook, “and once we finished the demo we sent it around to see what [Canadian distributor] Virgin thought of it, and what Narada, our label in the States, thought of it. I personally think some of the demos that I did for it were really cool—I did a lot of different approaches on that song—but in the end, nobody felt really strong about it, so we just kind of left it on the shelf.”

While the nixing of “Superstition” was a minor disappointment for Cook, there were many pluses to the Free Fall project, not the least of which involved having Djivan Gasparyan perform “godlike Armenian duduk” on the haunting track “Incantation”. Gasparyan is probably best known for his contributions to Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ.

“I’d never really heard his music until I’d heard it on Gabriel’s work,” notes Cook, “and then I was like, ‘My god, what instrument’s that? And how can I work with that guy?’ ”

While Cook’s support of relatively unknown artists like Gasparyan may be appreciated by hard-core world-music aficionados, some devotees of pure flamenco music might scoff at the idea of this longhaired Canuck putting a rumba-pop spin on the music they hold dear.

“People don’t come and tell me that if they think it,” says Cook, “but I know that people who do flamenco puro, the type of traditional flamenco that you hear in Spain, are sometimes frustrated by the number of guitarists like me who are maybe taking just a few elements of flamenco music and mixing it with a lot of other things. But my feeling is that…I personally love flamenco puro, and part of what got me interested in it in the first place was guys like the Gipsy Kings and people who sort of popularized the idiom, but maybe weren’t being true to its roots.

“Eventually my hope is that people who listen to me and the Gipsy Kings will then seek out Paco de Lucía and Vicente Amigo and other guys who are playing more traditional flamenco.”

Leave a Reply