Jesse Cook--The Rumba Foundation


Always intriguing, always with the exotic, tender stroke of the string, the music of World/Flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook is as intoxicating as the aromas and zest of the lands he presents in song.  His ability to intertwine jazz and flamenco influences is as alluring as his imagination.  So, it comes as no surprise that his latest effort, The Rumba Foundation, scheduled for release on Sept. 29, is an alluring, enticing project with nowhere to go but to your heartstrings.
For this latest recording, Cook wanted to trace rumba flamenco back to its roots in Cuba, but his instincts got the better of him, and he wound up spending time in Bogota, Colombia, where this whole album swirls and takes shape, as will probably be evident to all upon listening.

“Colombia just took over this project,” the award-winning guitarist admits with a laugh. “So now I describe it as ‘returning to the Americas.’  I flew down to Colombia and worked with a group called Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto. They won a Latin Grammy back in 2007. They play traditional music known as Vallenato, and they make all their own instruments by hand, including gaitos flutes. I learned these flutes are always played in pairs and in only one key. They are doing it ‘old school.’”

Hearing Cook’s style, the group might well have wondered how the two styles would mesh. There really was no structure for this first encounter. Cook, who also assumed the role of producer, saw this as an opportunity to find a musical common ground, which they would build upon in the studio over the following days. It’s a similar approach to the one he took when recording the many different rhythms in Egypt, Spain, and elsewhere for his two studio albums, Frontiers and Nomad both of which, quickly climbed to #5 on the Billboard charts. He apparently had no interest in charging in and taking over everything.  In fact, as he says: “If I go down there and teach them what I want them to do, what’s the point in going down?  I could just get somebody in Toronto to play it.  Half the reason you go down there, in their own country, their own studio, is that you are bound to bring something out of it that you would never get in your home country.” Makes sense to me.

The world is a big place, and Jesse Cook always manages to make it smaller and more personal with his careful, deliberate melodies. The tunes on The Rumba Foundation not only further cement his reputation as one of the most gifted World/Flamenco guitarists ever to seduce a set of strings, but they dance with you, they sing with you, they can become you and vice versa ever so easily.  Take, for example, the opening track, “Bogota By Bus,” a lively piece that takes you for a whirl on the dance floor with all the color and magnetism you’d expect from a Latin fiesta.  Follow that with Santa Marta, loaded with deliberate exoticism and intensity.  One of my favs, “Gaita,” obviously a nod to the music and the group with which he’d conjured up this magnificent concoction, is equally as exotic and intense.  In fact, each of these selections is charged with that same intensity and exoticism—brought to bear, of course, by Cook’s most brilliant guitar work.  His fingers glide over each note as if it were his dance partner or, better yet, his lover.  A great example of this latter metaphor is the sweetness of “Rain Day.”  Oh, and for a slight deviation, there’s the light and airy tribute to Simon and Garfunkel with “Cecilia.” Wow! How long has it been since I’ve heard this gem?

In a nutshell, The Rumba Foundation has flavor, charm, and texture. No, not unlike many of Cook’s efforts, but still qualitatively distinct.  In his opinion, “I do honestly think this is my best album ever. I don’t believe that Vallenato and Rumba Flamenco have ever been mixed before. There are some real magic moments.”  Magic would be the word, mi amigo. -- Ronald Jackson