2003 / Narada World
Review by Michael Debbage
According to the liner notes Nomad was two years in the making and the wall of sound that you are about to hear makes every living moment of that creative period worthwhile. But it is not just the production values that are superb, as the compositions are equally inspiring. Despite Jesse Cook's outstanding recording career to date, Nomad is his most defining moment. An outlandish statement perhaps, but nevertheless utterly true.
In the past, Cook's flamenco guitar has always carried a strong international flavor. This time, the world stage plays a more vanguard role versus the supporting influence like in the past. Recorded in Cairo, Madrid, London, Toronto and Los Angeles, there is no doubting that the international production settings spill over into the music. One of the most obvious fruits of this endeavor is the moody prelude imaginatively entitled "Prelude." It has some of the most exotic violin work heard in a long time. The musical introduction is further embellished with an assortment of percussion work from Hossam Ramzy that pulsates to a crescendo, setting the entire tone of the album. Nor does it hurt to walk straight into the pounding "Qadukka-l-Mayyas" that also features the Egyptian String Ensemble. The foreign vocal-chanting arrangement of Maryem Tollar only adds to the exotica.
The artist's past two albums have showcased a vocal track, however, this time around there is a slew of vocal arrangements to be found. Thus, instrumental purists be aware, but do not let this discourage your exploration. The more commercially appealing songs are the happy "Early On Tuesday" and the melancholy "Down Like Rain" that feature the BoDeans and the Rembrandts' Danny Wilde, respectively. The less commercial efforts are the aforementioned "Qadukka-l-Mayyas" and the even more bizarre concluding track, "Toca Orilla."
However, the best vocal effort (or for that matter, the best track on the entire album) comes courtesy of the performance from Flora Purim on the flowing "Maybe." The CD booklet describes it as Brazilian samba meeting rumba flamenco. Frankly, from a genre point of view, categorizing it is almost impossible. Yet emotionally, perhaps a bundle of joy that transports you to sunny places with lush green palm trees dancing in a soft tropical breeze, resting upon blue skies, bordered by equally blue warm water and white beaches may assist you.
Still, this leaves us with a healthy portion of instrumental workouts. The most obvious choice would be the title track "Nomad" that includes a wandering array of sounds embroidered by the kitchen sink (no pun intended). In contrast, there is the poignant "Surrender" that will please many of the more rooted Jesse Cook fans. Meanwhile, the ponderous approach of "Surrender" is contrasted by the pulsating "Leila," which once again features the ambitious Hossam Ramzy on percussion.
While taken by surprise with the onslaught of vocal deliveries, the album shows a fine balance in the spoken and unspoken words. Jesse Cook has become the master of the flamenco guitar positioned on a world stage of musical expressions. Delivering like no other musician in this field, the twists and turns of genres and mood swings articulate a wide range of emotions that makes this project a majestic and moving musical experience.
January 1, 2003