Art doesn’t always imitate life — just ask Jesse Cook.
The Canadian guitarist, known for his work in modern flamenco rumba, world music and jazz, has usually included both upbeat and moody songs on his previous seven studio albums. But for last year’s “The Blue Guitar Sessions,” he wanted to create a single mood throughout the album, and eschewed his pounding rhythmic side and trademark flamenco licks in favor of more streamlined, atmospheric compositions.
“This is the kind of music you want to listen to after you’ve just been dumped — your girlfriend left you, it’s raining outside, your life is falling apart, and you put that record on — ah, sad songs, moody stuff,” he said recently from his home in Toronto.
“A lot of my favorite records are those kind of records, whether it’s Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” more recently the Adele “21” record, or Norah Jones’ record that came out about eight or nine years ago. Every so often there’s a whole album that is unapologetically that one vibe.”
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
How Much: $29.50
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
Despite the album’s melancholy material, Cook was actually far from depressed when he wrote it. He was on vacation with his family last summer when he composed the bulk of the material.
“That’s the weird part … I was at a really happy place in my life,” he said. “My kids — I have young children, and they’re in that pretty happy place before they’re teenagers and they hate you. We were on summer vacation up at a lake in Canada, and we were just staying at a cottage. Every morning I would get up and write one of these really sad pieces, and then go out and play in the lake with my kids. It was really strange; there was nothing sad going on in my life. But somehow the sad pieces made me happy.”
Both happy and sad songs are represented equally in Cook’s live show, featuring his band — violinist and vocalist Chris Church, drummer Rosendo “Chendy” Leon, guitarist Nicolas Hernandez and bassist Dennis Mohammed. The band kicks off a 70-show U.S. tour supporting “The Blue Guitar Sessions” today; Friday night’s show at The Egg will be the second of the tour.
“It’s the most we’ve ever done there,” Cook said. “Things are kind of heating up for us down there; it’s very exciting.”
This tour will feature the debut of many of the tracks from “The Blue Guitar Sessions.” During his Canadian tour last year, Cook had a guest vocalist, Emma-Lee, who reprised her performances on the covers “I Put a Spell on You” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas” from the new album. Without a vocalist for this tour, these songs won’t be appearing, which frees more room in the set list for more of the instrumental originals from the album.
“It is a big departure — people keep pointing that out to me,” Cook said. “When we tour the States we won’t have the guest singer, so we’ll do more instrumentals. I have yet to see how the other songs go over — we did a couple of the instrumentals last year, but not as many.”
Growing up in Paris, southern France and Barcelona, Cook was exposed to guitar and gypsy music at an early age, and began taking guitar lessons when he relocated with his mother and sister to Canada. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, soon thereafter releasing his first studio album, “Tempest,” in 1995.
“The Blue Guitar Sessions” has been a departure for Cook in more ways than one. He has recorded the majority of his studio albums in his former studio, which was located in a coach house. Wanting to emulate the sound of older records such as “Kind of Blue,” he began researching vintage recording equipment and techniques, and set up a new studio on the top floor of his house, a much more open space that allowed him to capture a live dynamic.
“In the old days, people didn’t record in dead rooms — nowadays people go in these little rooms with padding to absorb the reflection of the notes, so there’s nothing about the space you’re playing in on the recording; they add it in electronically,” he said.
“In the old days they would go into a huge space, put in a couple of amazing microphones, and end up with these huge and slightly unruly records. That required me to give up my desire to control every aspect and embrace the naturalness of recording in a big room.”
Cook has been gradually growing his U.S. audience over the past decade, thanks to both his live performances there and more recently a PBS special, “Jesse Cook, Live in concert,” which aired last year. His eclectic music doesn’t fit easily into a specific genre or radio format, which has proved challenging over the years.
Building an audience
“For years we’ve been slowly building an audience using word-of-mouth, because I have such weird music. Let’s face it — it’s not pop music, it’s not classic rock, it’s not even really jazz. . . . It’s not hot adult contemporary, it’s not classical — what is it?” Cook said.
“At the end of the day, I’m trying to make something that people haven’t heard before, and in so doing I’m out in no-man’s land a bit. I have to rely on renegade radio station programmers who play it and go, ‘I like this, but I don’t know what it is.’ I’ve been embraced by Latin stations, although I’m not really Latin, and smooth jazz stations, though I’m not smooth jazz. But if people find that in it and play it, I’m thrilled.”