Jesse Cook Concert Review Vancouver BC

Jesse Cook and his band wowed a packed house at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver BC last night, December 16, 2012. He has played this city many times, and always to a devoted and enthusiastic crowd, but never more so than this time around. His trademark smooth jazz repertoire and scintillating guitar skills were much in evidence, but he has expanded his musical scope considerably with his latest release The Blue Guitar Sessions, a somewhat melancholy but highly lyrical and moving collection that took more than a year of production time. He played several pieces from his new album and all of them were standouts.

Jesse exhibits great compositional flair and a new depth of feeling in The Blue Guitar Sessions, which he humorously ascribed to “wanting to make the kind of music you’d listen to after you’ve been dumped by the love of your life”. Well, there’s an old saying that poetry is “emotion recollected in tranquillity” and that is exactly what he has achieved with his new record. If you haven’t heard it, you should – it’s his best studio work in years. The new compositions, especially “Broken Moon”, are also great companions to his existing catalogue, as well as being highly suitable for concert performance, lending as they do variety, tonal colour and a range of emotional expression that often escapes nuevo flamenco.

Elegantly dressed in white shirt, fashionable skinny tie and dark vest, he opened by casually walking onstage with his guitar before his band, a disarmingly engaging tactic that is far from the usual practice of letting the band come out first to set the groove and build the star’s entrance. Tells you something about the man right away; he is both superbly talented and modest. He starts it off, the band joins him, and we’re into the intoxicating sounds of his famous rumba-flamenco style. And this band sizzles! The multi-instumentalist Chris Church on violin, accordion, piano, vocals, and sundry other instrument, Dennis Mohammed with some of the finest electric bass you will ever hear, Nicolas Hernandez on guitar, and Chendy Leon on drums and percussion are as talented and as flawless in their execution as Jesse himself, which is saying something special happens when these five guys play together.

The concert was a mix of new and old material, going back as far as “Parasol” and “Gravity” from the mid 90s when he first began recording. One of the most surprising and satisfying pieces was “Incantation”, taken from the Free Fall album a dozen or so years ago. Until recently the band was unable to recreate this piece in concert, due to the masterly studio playing by Djivan Gasparyan on the saxophone-like Armenian instrument called “duduk” that has been used on records by Peter Gabriel and other world musicians. But try to find a touring player for the duduk! Well, the talented Chris Church spent some time locating an instrument, learning the duduk, and with impressive results: the performance was redolent with Middle-Eastern mystery.

Special mention must also be made of guest vocalist Emma-Lee, who recorded two songs with Jesse on the new album, and performed both of them last night to considerable acclaim from the audience. Those two pieces were the Charles Aznavour (and Nina Simone) classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas”, and the Nina Simone dazzler “You Put A Spell On Me”. The former was challenging, and Emma-Lee more than did it justice, but her collaboration with Jesse on the latter was truly something special to behold. Simply put, there hasn’t been a better interpretation of this song than hers in many years, and Jesse’s restrained elegance, heartfelt lyricism and beautifully liquid sound formed a perfect marriage with Emma-Lee’s marvellous vocal. She also performed as the opening act with two of her own compositions, alt-country/pop/soul works that bode well for her independent career.

One thing must be said about the man Jesse Cook – he is an astonishingly generous person, going out of his way to mention not just or two but several of the crew members who had helped him with his career, particularly Trevor Nash, his outstanding sound engineer (the sound quality of this show was utterly amazing!), as well as Jean Francois Dubois, whom he called “The Ferrari of stage support crew”. This, of course, was in addition to the lavish praise he poured on Emma-Lee and his band members. Frankly in all my years of attending concerts I’ve never before experienced Jesse’s refreshing combination of top-rank musicianship and uncharacteristic modesty.

The show concluded with a rumba-type medley of five or six numbers that had everyone in the audience up and moving, clapping and cheering until they were hoarse. And as for the encore portion of the evening, there were some surprises: a version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic “Cecilia” and an acoustic, un-miked “Fall At Your Feet” that was a fitting closer. The audience emerged from the glorious architecture of the Orpheum Theatre into a dark night of chilly rain, talking non-stop of the passionate fire and virtuosic talents within Mr. Cook and his wonderful band. For many lucky music fans, this was the concert of the year.

Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Publisher and Editor of Vivascene, which he founded in 2010. A former record store owner, business executive and business writer, he is devoted to vinyl records, classical guitar, and b&w photography.

One comment

  1. What a fabulous review, as always. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your extremely informative review of a wonderful performance.
    Keep up the great work!

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