Concert Review – Jesse Cook

It did not take long …

Within moments of Jesse Cook taking the stage, an obvious affection spilled through the seats of Salle Wilfred Pelletier and inflicted the stage with an amorous disease. Getting sick never seemed so much fun.


Cook was in Montreal last Friday on the coat tails of his latest album – The Blue Guitar Sessions. An album which Cook elegantly described to the sold out theater as a disc to play ‘right after you are dumped’. One sad song after another which gave the 47 year old Jesse ‘immense pleasure’ while penning the disc. A happiness which Cook wished upon his audience as they listened to his melancholy tunes.

It was a sadomasochistic offering of the most divine musical intervention.

Cook, along with ‘Chendy’ Leon, Chris Church, Nicholas Hernandez and Dennis Mohammed delivered a mixture of old and new tunes to a fan base which absolutely are in love with the music. ‘Gravity‘ from the album of the same name ( Cook’s 2nd studio offering), erupted the crown into a welcoming frenzy which the musicians on stage reciprocated affectionately.

Emma-Lee_selfportrait1_ed-150x150A frenzy which was nurtured by Emma-Lee. The Toronto-born songstress who was invited to sing on Cook’s new disc as well as be the opening act. Lee warmed the crowd with her voice which appeared to be older than the woman herself. Accompanied by Church, Lee set the table with an outpouring of vocal styling which may one day place her alongside Norah Jones as a top selling act.

Cook himself is a very funny guy in a self – depreciating way. His banter contains stories of the making of discs, the writing of songs or just tales which come to mind. One such tale was of learning a trick from Dizzy Gillespie. It seems that Gillespie, once upon a time, would toss a handkerchief into the air near the end of a song which he was performing live. Following a few lovely ‘floating’ moments – the handkerchief landed upon the stage and all the musicians in his band would simultaneous ‘wham!’ – end the song. Cook went on to explain how – when he attempted the same thing, the handkerchief fell straight down. No floating. Jesse explained how ever since, he now uses a baton …

A large contingent of PBS employees were on hand for the show. Having made the trip from places such as Burlington, Vt. and Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Cook was featured in a television special and the various suits and their wives / husbands made the trek to bask in what appears their ‘new – found’ hero’s limelight. There was a lot of noise during the show from what appeared to be loyal fans. Afterwards, it was obvious, a lot of these folk were in Montreal for the ride and their musical discussions were limited. There is always hope this will be the start of a musical education for our neighbors to the South …

Especially if they happen to pay attention to the work of drummer extraordinaire, ‘Chendy’ Leon. This man stole the show …


Cook is talented although he does take some criticism from guitar men who believe he is a ‘McDonalds Flamenco player’. In other words, taking the easy route to fame by playing a watered – down version of Flamenco. Leon, however – is the real deal …

His percussion is so profound, it lights up the stage with every kick on bass and zap of a cymbal. The beauty is in the effortless playing. From his first percussion lesson, given to him by his father in Havana, Cuba, when he was only four years old, “Chendy” learned at an incredible rate. At the age of 18 he began his professional career, playing and recording with many famous Cuban bands and artists and  he is the most sought out drummer for Latin music in the country.

The second half of the show contained all the gems. Emma-Lee returned to the stage and sang; ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and ‘Ne me Quitte Pas’. A haunting took place as the lights at Place des Arts silhouetted Lee’s ghostly voice. Cook’s intense plucking via nylon strings – an educational experience as  the crispness of the notes as clear as the sound of a fish splashing into a cool lake in the early dawn.

The encore discovered the band, following a  brief disappearance, returning to stage left and to the right of the audience. A Capella sing a long took place which was a very nice moment. The  musicians’ tales were sung true to heart ..

Let’s hope the PBS people took note …

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