Jesse Cook,
(Narada, 2004)

Jesse Cook, the flamboyant world-music guitarist, is at his best here with an energetic supporting cast in a live record set in Montreal. Yes, world music in the true sense. Think Gipsy Kings doing samba from Kashmir, at a jazz festival, and you've pretty much got it. Call it flamenco-plus.

On Montreal, his sixth disc, Cook's flying fingers build a wonderful edifice of sound, along with the excitement of a live performance before an audience of clearly devoted fans at this show recorded at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal.

The 13 instrumental tracks don't suffer from any lack of pulse, with the deep rhythmic percussion of the Samba Squad and ethereal, oriental-style violin and vocals sharing the stage at times with Cook.

Cook is very much the star here though and makes no wrong turns on the guitar. Montreal has all the hallmarks of a live performance, both positive and negative. Along with the energy, this is a greatest-hits-live package with fan favorites, lots of applause, audience sounds and a rough sound at times, and the inevitable showmanship that is lost in translation to disc.

Musicians Paul Antonio on drums, Chris Church on violin and vocals, Art Avalos on percussion, Collin Barrett on bass, Nicolas Hernandez on guitar, along with the Samba Squad, are on target and enjoyable.

On his first track, "Beloved," Maryem Tollar introduces the CD with her near-Eastern vocals. The disc moves on to include many Cook standards like the brilliant "Mario Takes a Walk" (featuring the Samba Squad) and the stunning "Rattle & Burn." The Castillian-sounding, romantic "Luna Llena" is also a highlight, rising and falling like sands on a desert. On "Dance of Spring," Cook's fingers are on the move again with the perfect percussive backing and the violin, then the audience joins in on a clap line before another flaming climax.

If one track disappoints, "Fall at Your Feet" with Danny Wilde on vocals, comes as a bit of an anticlimax to what is otherwise a consistently vibrant recording.

A fine guitar player and, to judge by the audience reaction, a true showman, Cook brings together fine musicians and the music of many lands on this live treat.

by David Cox
8 April 2006

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