Jesse Cook sure produces a kaleidoscopic soundscape for a man with a supposedly blue guitar.
The virtuoso classical guitarist, now on the second leg of a ongoing tour to support his last album, The Blue Guitar Sessions, put on an exuberant concert Friday at the Memorial Centre in Red Deer.
His red-hot flamenco and rumba-style instrumentals left 480 fans clapping along, even leaping out of their seats to give Cook and his band of four crack musicians a series of standing ovations at the end.
But where were the quiet, greyed down, introspective numbers that Cook said he wrote as “the soundtrack of your misery” for survivors of relationship breakups? After all, the Toronto-based guitarist admitted his Blue Guitar album features songs that are “completely, unapologetically a bummer.”
Maybe he had the wrong play list, for the Central Alberta audience was grooving to largely sunny, upbeat tunes that didn’t leave a lot to be bummed about.
Cook, who promised to play some old and new selections, started the show with a favourite, Mario Takes A Walk.
The gypsy-like, percussive tune helped secure his international fan base, including Russian figureskater Irina Slutskaya, who won a bronze medal dancing to the melody at the Turin Olympic Games in 2006.
Gravity, another Cook standard, followed. Its confident staccato beat was soothed by some soulful violin playing by multi-instrumentalist Chris Church, and once again, toes were left a-tapping. The crowd responded enthusiastically.
Cook wasn’t sure what to expect with Europa, a “studio” melody he doesn’t often perform live. He and the other musicians recorded some hand claps that kept the beat throughout the atmospheric, new-age instrumental that also spotlighted an electric guitar melody. Cook needn’t have worried — it got a huge reaction, which became the standard for the night.
Later, all five musicians came downstage to perform the Spanish-flavoured Cancion Triste, which involved the percussionist keeping beat on a box drum.
Azul was a more reflective tune, with a duet between Cook and rhythm guitarist Nicolas Hernandez. But before long, both sped up so that their hands were strumming as fast as hummingbird’s wings — yet they didn’t miss a note.
Gipsy, Rain and Bogota By Bus respectively featured African drums and shakers, some nearly melancholy guitar riffs, and French-sounding accordion.
Most memorably, Cook and his band marked the concert’s halfway point with a performance of Incantation.
It involved Church playing the Armenian duduk, an ancient instrument that looks like a short recorder.
But this forerunner to the saxophone produces a haunting sound that sends chills up your back. Fans of the movie Gladiator would immediately recognize it from the soundtrack, for if ever an instrument had an old, old soul, it is the Armenian duduk.
The rest of the show included more flamenco-style melodies in Tempest, a syncopated hook in Cafe Mocha, and Rumba Medley.
While “depressing” never sounded as good as Cook’s Fields of Blue, of all the selections, the experimental Waiting for Tide and Luna Llena offered the most welcome change.
The first offered some groovy hand drumming and a mellow vibe, and the latter, a moody, tempestuous, Spanish-style guitar solo.
Both beautiful instrumentals had darker edges than most of Cook’s concert selections, which made them stand outs.
Cook, who accepted a gift of a handmade cigar-box guitar from a local craftsman during the show, is a remarkably talented musician and composer, and is an amazing showman. But a similar tempo and instrumental arrangements cast a uniformly sunny glow over most of his song selections for the Red Deer show.
That’s in part why the encore cover tunes, performed by Cook and the band — Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecilia, Crowded House’s Fall At Your Feet, and the Beatles’ Two of Us — sounded so fresh, with their varying moods and rhythms. Too bad he didn’t intersperse them throughout the concert.
Only these songs featured vocals.
And Church sang lead on an acoustic rendering of Fall At Your Feet (is there anything this man can’t do?)
It was the evening’s most emotionally charged performance — and not just because it took place in the aisle of the Memorial Centre.
Interestingly, Two of Us included Cook’s vocal contributions which, while not quite up to his stellar guitar-playing standards, were not bad at all!
Cook’s bright, bold sound palette can be likened to the post-Impressionist paintings of Paul Gauguin. Both are masters of serving up generous dollops of spectacular colour.