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Cook blazes nuevo flamenco trail

The Associated Press recently offered up a story wherein various Spanish flamenco aficionados bemoaned the perceived withering away of the art in its homeland.

The general feeling of the folks interviewed was that more non-Spanish musicians than Spaniards are interested in playing flamenco. Silvia Calado, a critic for a Web site devoted to flamenco music, was quoted as saying, "Flamenco is distancing itself from young people, and they are the ones who can keep it alive."

In some ways, this viewpoint seems analogous to fans who decry the progressive mutations (evolution) of classical, country and rock traditions into something that doesn't fit their definition of the art.

In flamenco guitar playing, the tradition is upheld by such musicians as Paco de Lucia and Pepe Habichuela. Younger artists like Oscar Lopez, Drew Bennett and Jesse Cook hang out and play in the broad catchall category known as nuevo flamenco.

Cook brought his take on flamenco music to Rockwell Hall on Friday evening and, with his trio, performed in concert before an enthusiastic audience that, during the intermission, ravenously snapped up his CDs and DVDs.

An adherent of rumba flamenco, a style with roots in the Cuban rumbas that migrated from their homeland to transform Spanish music, Cook had a left hand that appeared to float up and down the guitar's fretboard even as his right hand alternately flailed and picked at the strings with admirable energy and skill.

His compatriots -- violinist-bassist Chris Church, percussionist Rosendo "Chendy" Leon and guitarist Nicolas Hernandez -- were marvelous as well.

Hernandez is a good enough player on his own to warrant attention, while Leon is a freakishly talented player whose percussive colors match the ebb and flow of Cook's and Hernandez's guitar playing.

Church was a solid performer, although the sound mix at the beginning of the concert did him no favors, burying his playing beneath that of his fellow musicians.

Much of the material played could be found on Cook's most recent release, "Frontiers," but he also reached back in time for tunes from earlier albums. Fluidly up-tempo riffs propelled such numbers as "Cafe Mocha."

But interesting performances also showed up in some of the slower songs, including "Rain" -- with Hernandez's evocative, atmospheric soloing matching up well with Cook's artistry -- and the delicate "Come What May."

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Jesse Cook

Friday night in the Performing Arts Center in Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College.

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