Other-Wordly World Music Performance
by Miles Overn
The near sell-out crowd had mostly settled into their seats early. Anticipation and expectation enveloped the audience, creating a buzz that expressed itself initially almost as a murmur borne of deep respect for the artist about to take the stage, but with a steadily building intensity as show time neared.
That reverent, intimate sharing between those gathered for the Kelowna stop of Jesse Cook’s Beyond Borders Tour gave way to attentive listening with all eyes becoming focused on Cook and his band as they launched into “Beyond Borders,” the title track from his 2017 album of the same name. The crowd erupted into thunderous applause at the end of the extended version of this album-opening middle-eastern tinged invitation into what would be an exotic journey through the heart of diverse musical styles and idioms from several continents and their peoples and cultures.
Cook immediately took his fans back to “Tempest,” the title song of his debut album from back in 1995. This song, with its Iberian Peninsula rhythms and tones, established the fact that rather than just attending a concert in a community theatre in Kelowna, we would be travelling across distances and through time with breathtaking musical soundtrack and scenery.
Next stop was the haunting “Virtue” from his 2000 Free Fall album. Beautifully executed with simmering passion and echoes of pain. That was followed by “Jumpstart,” another track from his Tempest CD. Cuban percussionist Chendy Leon was featured on a Box drum solo during this song that can only be described as captivating and enthralling.
Cook would include another song from his Beyond Borders offering as well as a few other pieces before taking an intermission after a 45 minute first set. 20 minutes later or so we were back in our seats and Cook and his band were back on stage.
The second set began with “Incantation” and weaved through several songs both recent and older that spoke to the breadth of his musical interests and the apparent depth of familiarity with each one. The Simon and Garfunkel classic “Cecilia” even made it into the show.
The virtuosity, not just of Cook himself but also of each of his bandmates, was awe inspiring. From Chendy Leon on percussion to Dennis Mohammed on fretted and fretless electric bass and percussion to Nicolas Hernandez on rhythm guitar and the astounding Chris Church on violin and a host of ethnic instruments, some of which go back thousands of years ago, allowed for a performance that was fueled with passion and delivered with precision. The flow across these songs featuring such a broad range of styles was stunning in its seamlessness. Tension and release, dissonance and consonance, flowing pastoral legato lines and high-speed flights of fancy. Polyrhythmic patterns with deep groove and gorgeous feel. All these elements drew the crowd in deeper and deeper to a degree that lead to the entire audience rising to their feet and standing through the last 20 minutes of the second set and on into the first of 2 encores.
After starting the first encore with “Mario,” the band broke it down and sang and played “Fall at Your Feet” acoustically to close that 2-song package out. The spellbound audience stood silently and absorbed the beauty of the moment as the moment itself absorbed everyone in the auditorium into a mysterious, magical coming together that at least bordered on a cosmic oneness experience.
Easily one of the best performances this reviewer has seen anywhere in North America in recent memory.