If there’s one constant theme in Jesse Cook’s discography, it’s the universal appeal of music.
“No matter where you go in the world, people understand music,” he said. The Juno-winning guitar virtuoso has earned numerous accolades and a highly devoted fanbase for his genre-blending, globetrotting style of instrumental music.
His music interweaves diverse elements and instruments into a unique sound he described as “the Constantinople of music,” referring to the ancient city’s role as a meeting place for multiple cultures. The result of the disparate influences is a seamless fusion that “winds up speaking to the universality of music.”
“I like to take people on a bit of a journey,” Cook said. “There’s not a long of singing…Instead, we tell stories with the music. We want people to come into a new world with us.”
This desire to take his audience on a journey means Cook is constantly seeking out new and unexplored sonic terrain. Beyond Borders is his tenth studio album, released in late August.
“Every record that I’ve done I’ve tried to take in a different direction,” Cook said. “With this record, I’m working with a lot of electronic loops and more ‘urban’ sounds that are mixed in with ancient instruments, and that’s what I find intriguing…There are instruments on this record from all sorts of countries…You wind up with this crazy space where ‘ancient’ meets ‘modern.’”
The sheer eclecticism of his recordings can make the music difficult to translate live, which Cook and his band will do when they hit the Fredericton Playhouse on Nov. 23.
In the past, Cook sought to alleviate this difficulty by bringing multiple guest musicians on the road with him, which he admitted to making him sometimes feel like “a ringmaster” as he introduced one musician after another. Instead, for this tour, Cook has assembled a smaller but extremely versatile band, with each member handling various musical duties. Despite the trimmed-down lineup, the result, in his estimation, is a band that sounds much bigger, not smaller.
Still, even with the undeniable skill and talent of his band, the recordings do present many difficulties in live presentation. However, Cook promises his audience is that the music will, indeed, be performed live.
“One thing I don’t want to do is play to a backing track…My feeling is, if people are paying to come hear live music, they don’t want to hear a tape playing. They want to see the music live, with all the risks of failing…No matter the difficulty, we find some way to pull it off.”
It is this commitment to an excellent performance that has earned Cook the devotion of an audience who will, again and again, drive many hours to catch a show, with fans often telling him they’ve attended upwards of twenty performances. This audience, which encompasses people of all ages and cultures—emphasizing the music’s universal ability to “cut through”—appreciates Cook’s dedication to delivering a stellar live show.
“I know instrumental music may not be for everyone,” Cook said. “But the show is never what people expect. People often assume it’s the kind of thing where they should bring their opera glasses, but it’s more like a rock show, definitely…By the end of the show, people are usually up and dancing.”
Jesse Cook will take the Fredericton Playhouse stage at 8:00 p.m. on Nov. 23.