Acoustic guitar virtuoso Jesse Cook took a bit of a chance last year.
His eighth studio album, "The Blue Guitar Sessions," ventured into some new territory, always a risky proposition when fans are accustomed to a style developed over the years.
"People associate me with dance music, happy music, but I wanted to do this," says Cook, whose longtime focus on flamenco music has helped him win over audiences and earn numerous awards. He's a champion of what's called "nouveau flamenco," which brings aspects of flamenco rumba, jazz and various world music into his performances and compositions.
But with the album released last September, he's widening his horizons.
"I realized some of my favorite albums are blue — not the blues, but melancholy or quite contemplative," he says. He points to classic albums like Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and Norah Jones' "Come Away with Me." "You put them on and you live in that space," Cook says. "I wanted to make one of those for a while, but wasn't sure if anyone else wanted me to. But as an artist, all you can do is chase your muse."
His U.S. tour, which includes a concert Friday night at the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center, is bringing listeners elements from the new album as well as works from his other CDs. "I try to cover a lot of ground," he says.
The tour comes on the heels of last year's PBS broadcast of the TV special, "Jesse Cook: Live in Concert."
The Toronto-based Cook started studying classical music when he was young and developed an interest in improvisation and jazz. Along the way he was listening to his parents' records of flamenco music and was enthralled. "I learned the forms early on, and when I was in my teens, I heard 'Friday Night in San Francisco,' a 1981 live acoustic guitar album by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia."
Cook loved that de Lucia — one of the top modern flamenco players — had successfully crossed over to jazz fusion. That influenced Cook's practice of mixing music from around the world into his performances and recordings.
This is his fifth appearance at BPACC. His first was just days after 9/11, a time so unsettling that it was difficult to ascertain when the right time would be to move past the shock and grief.
"I have very strong memories of that first experience playing in Bartlett and how it was a really great bonding," Cook says. "We spent so much time in our houses watching TV and feeling like it was the end of the world that we finally needed to get out and do something social. This gave us a chance to emerge, and every time I've come back to Bartlett, it's been somewhat of a reunion of those of us who went through it together."