Coat Cooke


CD Reviews

Coat Cooke/Rainer Wiens: High Wire (2011 [2012], Now Orchestra): Cooke is a saxophonist, based in Vancouver, Canada; he founded NOW Orchestra in 1987, which continues as one of the world's premier avant-big bands -- their recordings seem to be limited to when guests arrive (Barry Guy in 1994, George Lewis in 2001, Marilyn Crispell in 2005). Cooke has a trio album, and two new duos. Wiens plays guitar and thumb piano, a bit ambient, but that draws out the scratchy sax. B+(***)

Coat Cooke/Joe Poole: Conversations (2011 [2012], Now Orchestra): Another duo, pitting Vancouver saxophonist Cooke with drummer Poole, a slightly more conventional match up than the one with Cooke and Rainer Wiens (guitar, thumb piano), losing just a tad on variety and surprise, but louder. B+(***)

Tom Hull



New Reviews - Musicworks

Here's a new review from Winter 2012 Musicworks for High Wire, the CD with me and the extraordinary guitar/kalimba player Rainer Wiens. Please order it at
Coat Cooke & Rainer Wiens. High Wire. NOW Orches
tra Records CLNOW0007.

The pairing of Coat Cooke and Rainer Wiens in High Wire, results in a performance of dualities. Complexity versus simplicity, density versus scarcity are all at play here. Wiens creates complex sound environments on eclectic guitars and thumb pianos while Cooke soars overhead with clear, clean lines. Interaction is evident and the music is highly listenable. Drawing on sax antecedents, Cooke’s horn moves from the lightness of John Handy to the warmth of Jan Garbarek, ultimately shifting into a voice that is singularly his own. Rainer Wiens, for his part, evokes the spirit of performers such as Fred Frith, Hans Reichel, and the band Oregon, yet also creates his own unique complexity of sound. This is a CD that sounds familiar but is new, that is comfortable but edgy, and that contains an inner harmony even in its most discordant moments. This is a mature work of sensitive improvisation at its finest, and currently one of my favourite CDs in this idiom. —Randy Raine-Reusch

Here is a review of my new CD, Conversations with the great drummer, Joe Poole on NOW Orchestra Records.
Please download or order it from:

Musicworks 2012/Fall

Coat Cooke & Joe Poole. Conversations.

NOW Orchestra Records CLNOW0006.

Vancouver saxophonist Coat Cooke has always been in full control of his horn and is capable of great heights of creativity. He leads the NOW Orchestra and is extremely active in many parts of the Canadian music community. But few projects have given him, as this one does, the freedom to express the full breadth of his artistry. Poole, one of Vancouver’s first-call drummers, here gives Cooke the solid yet sensitive foundation that allows him to soar. This is their first outing together, and it’s a fruitful one. The CD is full of listening, perhaps even more so than playing, and in the music world, that is a high compliment. The music on this CD possesses a rare clarity of expression such as comes only with years of paring music down to its essence. Although clearly free improv, the playing is not subject to the self-absorbed clichés that plague that genre. Instead, it bursts with life, creativity, and discovery. —Randy Raine-Reusch


Another review of High Wire from Exclaim


Coat Cooke/Rainer Wiens

High Wire

By Glen Hall


When two of Canada's master free improvisers get together and get down, for sure it's going to be a high wire act full of danger and possibilities. When West coast saxophonist Coat Cooke and Montreal prepared guitarist Rainer Wiens play, they come ready for adventure, risk-taking and deep listening. "Storm Eye" is replete with swirling tenor saxophone and gamelan-like guitar thrumming ― turbulent, eddying, circular and open-ended. Cooke switches to soprano for "Elevation," his approach getting increasingly dense and dramatic over changing ostinato patterns by Wiens on thumb piano. The piece is free-jazz landed in an African village; its on-first-blush seeming "contradictions" working beautifully. At over ten minutes, it's the longest of the six tracks, and you can tell the twosome were so pleased with how things were going that they didn't want to stop ― good in-the-moment call. No drums? No problem. Wiens creates an alternate-sounding alternative by using hand drumming on his guitar for "Monkey Trails." This is high wire improvising that deserves to be heard.
(Now Orchestra)


Another wonderful review!

New Orchestra Records documents Vancouver creative music scene

BY Stuart Derdeyn
The Province
NOW Orchestra Records ( is a local label dedicated to showcasing the finest in Vancouver’s renowned creative improvising scene. A development of the long-running New Orchestra Workshop Society, which celebrates 35 years of presenting sonic advaentures, the label has seven new albums due this year. That’s an impressive release schedule for a new imprint.
Two wonderful new duet recordings came out recently; Conversations and High Wire.
Both feature the talents of saxophonist Coat Cooke, a founding member and creative director of the NOW and fixture on the Western Canadian jazz scene. Conversations is Cooke and drummer Joe Poole. High Wire is with guitarist and thumb piano player Rainer Wiens. These are very different recordings taken from live sets at local venues.
Conversations was recorded at the Cellar on October 6, 2011. One might anticipate some serious blowing and bashing right out of the gates as is so often the case with sax and drums duets. “Checkin’ In” opens the five song set and is an atmospheric and breathy piece. Poole is clearly a drummer who likes to explore the sonic dimensions of the individual pieces of the kit as much as use it in its entireity. Although he can swing like mad when he wants (“Feeling Feint”). Cooke works through a flurry of different techniques on the session, with some particularly fat tones blown in “Morning Story.”
Oddly, I might have reversed the album titles after listening to them both. There is something of a spatial balancing act going on in Conversations that seems more High Wire, while Cooke and Wiens really appear to be conversing in search of a common musical goal on High Wire.
This album is more interesting to me for just that reason. It’s six tracks travel through a selection of moods that find both musicians in an often meditative mood. Particularly on “Elevation,” which slithers around a calming thumb piano riff by Wiens as Cooke coaxes his instrument into breathy flights that always seem ready to drift off before he reels them back again. It’s a delightful effect, mirrored later in the guitar and sax mix on the title track. Highly recommended and, for people who might have some fear of pure improvisational music, not brash or blaring at any time.

New CD Reviews

Here are a couple of new CD reviews of my latest CDs with Joe Poole and Rainer Wiens.

COAT COOKE & RAINER WIENS / High Wire (NOW Orchestra Records)
Un CDR professionnel documentant une session entre le saxophoniste vancouvérois Coat Cooke et le guitariste montréalais Rainer Wiens, qui joue aussi du kalimba sur une pièce. Une belle rencontre d’improvisation libre, particulièrement lorsque Wiens multiplie les textures lancinantes. Cela dit, le haut fait de ce disque est “Elevation”, avec kalimba et Cooke au saxo soprano, en mode Steve Lacy.
A professional CDR documenting a session between Vancouver sax player Coat Cooke and Montréal guitarist Rainer Wiens, who also plays kalimba on one track. A fine free improvisation meeting, especially when Wiens unfolds bow-like guitar textures. However, the highlight is the kalimba track, “Elevation,” with Cooke on soprano sax and in full Steve Lacy mode.
COAT COOKE & JOE POOLE / Conversations (NOW Orchestra Records)
Le même saxophoniste, cette fois en duo avec le batteur Joe Poole, dans une session aux accents free jazz – disons de l’improvisation libre plus américaine qu’européenne. Et un petit moment de valse dans “Morning Story”. De l’impro inspirée.

The same sax player, this time with drummer Joe Poole, in a session with a stronger free jazz flavour – more American than European free improvisation. And an unexpected waltzing episode in “Morning Story.” Inspired improvising.

High WIre - Coat Cooke and Rainer Wiens

NOW Orchestra Records just released two new CDS.

High WIre, my new release with the extraordinary guitarist/mbira-ist (thumb piano),

Rainer Wiens. You can listen and download here

I just found our first review that actually talks about the music cut by cut critically.

Please check it out.

Or here it is:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Coat Cooke & Rainer Wiens - High Wire [NOW Orchestra]

Coat Cooke - saxophones
Rainer Wiens - guitar + thumb piano
NOW Orchestra Records 2012


What comes to your mind when I say "Vancouver"? I'll bet it's not jazz and/or improvised music (it wasn't mine guess) but here's a chance to venture into Vancouver's jazz scene. NOW* Orchestra Records is a local label dedicated to the promotion of improvised music which gives us a glimpse of what's happening on Canada's West Coast (as far as creative music is concerned). 


"High Wire" is a set of improvised, intricant duos. What I enjoy so much about this album is that each piece has its own identity, the ideas are plain and clear. There's melodic, subtle and elusively melodic saxophone against the thumb piano play ("Elevation"), the rhythmic honking along the plucked and strucked strings ("Monkey Trails") initially feverish then beautifully soulfull sax lines against the melodic clicks of muted strings ("Storm Eye"). The spacious and rusty vibrato on horn against the suspended, distorted guitar feedback and echo (aptly titled "Dimension x Sound" - possibly the most developed improvisation,  volatile saxophone whispers accompanied by the entire array of dream-like guitar notes, gently struck strings to bring sounds and harmonies abstract and peacefull like clouds in the sky). 

The title tracks that ends the album features ad raw, dark and menacing sound of bowed guitar string (vibrated to add dramatic distortion) against lonely lines of the saxophone, played in a clear tone yet seemingly unfinished, noir and minimalistic.


The versatile textures and unorthodox appraoch to the instrument by Rainer ("Space Landing", with its trembling, metallic noises would be a perfect background for a suspense sci-fi scene) fit perfectly with the  Cooke's saxophones, a very individual voice, focused and restrained, carefully treading between the  surprising melodic grip of his improvisation and the attention tonal nuances.  


Surreal and immaginative, evocative, the duo's music is personal yet universal in its scope, its focus, its ability to listen, react and co-create. A much welcomed release, do remember to put Vancouver on your jazz map and keep listening. A highly rewarding, if unexpected, treasure.

* NOW stands for The New Orchestra Workshop Society

Gabriola Island: The Net Loft

Had a great few days on Gabriola Island last weekend.

Mark Parlett (bass player and espresso maker extraordinaire) set up a gig

at The Net Loft (an amazing space right on the water) with a wonderful group

of musicians on August 25 and 26 - those beautiful balmy summer evenings.

I got to improvise a couple of evenings of music with DB Boyko/voice, Mark Parlett/bass, drum, flute

Christine Duncan/voice, Tony Wilson/guitar, Alex Varty/guitar, Andreas Kahre/percussion, and me on

tenor saxophone.

It really was a couple of nights that epitomized what improvised music is supposed to be about.

Stories told, generosity shown, joy indulged in, communication achieved, audience glowing.

Mark recorded the proceedings and I hope to hear them. He was happy about them. I'd love to post

them here in the future.

Review of VICO

Exotic Sounds in your own Back Yard

Kedrick James
April 5th, 2012

In welcoming the audience to Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra’s production Imagined Worlds: Intertwined, VICO founder Moshe Denburg made reference to the tremendous variety of musical worlds that arise out of this “uniquely Canadian” musical setting, where master instrumentalists of diverse musical heritage foment bonds that run deeper than political and geographic differences. This is not an easy task, even for highly trained musical specialists. Music comes out of our deepest sensibilities, and, like language, it resounds in our identities in profound ways. For the intrepid musical explorer, there are few better ways to experience the world—apart from physical travel—than to hear the various musical styles and instruments that speak of foreign places and exotic timbres.

There was a time, not so long ago in dog years, when exoticism was the target of many cultural critiques. The love of something that appealed purely because it was something new to the listener, something other from elsewhere, unbesmirched by global pop culture, was questioned along the lines of cultural tourism. Then Paul Simon went to South Africa, recorded Graceland, and Peter Gabriel and WOMAD and the Realworld label came, and exotic became popular, with all that diverse talent given the studio production stamp of Western approval. It became the multicultural mainstream, and World Music started sounding familiar, no matter where it originated. And eventually it passed into fad-dom, as all Western fashions do: World music today is little more than the shadow cast by Lady Gaga.

Studio production eradicated the rawness of the ethnic soundscape from world music and from ethnomusicological sensitivity—a rawness that is vivid in the pioneering field recordings carried out by the likes of David Lewiston and Moses Asch of Nonesuch Explorer Series and Smithsonian Folkways labels respectively. Listening to these recordings is like tourism, it’s like being there, listening in person. There is a fine line that divides the appreciation of diversity from the love of exoticism with all its native soil, dirt and grime in the background sound; a line so fine it’s imperceptible to my naked ear. When the indigenous sounds of particular places travel, make contact, and settle in a new field, we get backyard diversity. Diversity grafts traditions, generates new species of music—hybrids, mutants, an entanglement of cultural left-overs that embody fecund possibility. Diversity propagates emergent varietals; it fosters new strains, rather than, as exoticism does, clinging to traditional motifs and melodies valued for their authenticity, or conversely, succumbing to the World Music mainstream, which achieves, despite its geo-political differences, an impressive conformity.

What I heard at “Imagined Worlds: Intertwined’, seemed to go one continent further, it took elements of ethnomusicology and World Music, tradition and hybrid, anthropology and musical tourism, and blended these into a profoundly diverse evening’s entertainment. Were it not for the talent of the players this concert could have been an intolerable cultural gongshow. In an evening that premiered three commissioned works by Joel Bons (Amsterdam), Stephen Chatman (Vancouver) and Coat Cooke (Vancouver), using up to 25 musicians and the 23-member Laudate choir, along with traditional pieces by played by pipa soloist Guilian Lui and a small ensemble Persian musicians led by Hossein Behroozinia, VICO took us on a guided listening tour of a new world of composition. It was a lot for one evening, a bit like watching the world by peering through a keyhole at a passing Olympic parade.

Wei Shui Qing, a tradition piece for solo pipa, placed us in the drama the Orient, with Guilian Liu’s stunning technical mastery full of almost bluesy interpretive gestures, bending notes until almost broken, weeping, all fingers plucking strings in cascades of notes that seemed to conjure a Classic Western movie chase theme, of galloping horses that pause for the resonance of a single sustained tone to appreciate stunning vistas before galloping off again. This was followed by the second traditional number, Baad, meaning Wind, played by an ensemble featuring two drums, two bowed-string kamanches, and two lute-like instruments, the tar and oud. This piece varied from a sweet, calm breeze emphasized by stroking the drum skins, wafts of melody from the bowed strings, to a driving sandstorm with both hand drums thrumming the 17-beat rhythmic structure, all musicians turning a trance-inducing dynamo that made the heart race to hear it, an adrenalin rush, that would just as abruptly drop down to a whispering draught again.

Those two numbers summed up the traditional aspects of the evening before we began to hear hybrid musical forms take shape. We immediately transitioned to the world of Western Art Music, heavily influenced by the European avant guard. Bons’ composition “Green Dragon” extolled the virtues of the diversity of instrumental sounds VICO encompasses, choosing paired string instruments of different traditions. While introducing his composition, Bons had each musician strike or hold a note, thus comparing the Western violin and cello sounds with the Persian tar, santur, the Chinese zheng, pipa and erhus. With my eyes closed, Bons’ “Green Dragon” was reminiscent of Sequenza-era Berio, or Stockhausen, and it was odd to open my eyes and see the multicultural assortment of musicians on stage. Very little trace of the Near and Far Eastern traditions remained when brought together by Bons. I found the piece hauntingly even-tempered, constrained, calculated, and deliberate: it was exciting and arresting to hear the Western avant guard conjured with such an exotic assortment of instruments.

Moshe Denburg also contributed a composition that evoked the classical Western worldview, with an older piece titled El Ginat Egoz (Into the Walnut Garden) based on the text of the biblical Song of Songs. Denberg’s composition, a gentle, melodic piece for three instruments including erhu, zheng, and marimba, seemed a delicate structure to support the large choir that sang the words. Indeed, at times, the voices drowned out the three traditional instruments that accompanied them, in swells of passion that sought rapturous release. Although it was earth hour, Denburg had the house lights brought up so that we could read along, which was an unnecessary gesture—perhaps we should care for the world we have and enjoy the piece with our ears only, I thought, rather than bring our same old problems and habits into an imagined world. However, the composition did not lack in de-light, even with the lights on.

The second half of the program began with Coat Cooke’s composition Invocation for S’Unduda, a reference to the composer’s youthful discovery of musical joy and the source of his name, Coat. S’Unduda, he explained, means the best of all possible worlds—friends, feasts, and freedom to follow one’s own path through the world. Much of this spirit of the piece came through in his conducting (Cooke was the only composer to also conduct his own piece), which looked like he was playing and having fun with the musicians, encouraging them to improvise with a sense of irreverent joy. The piece had a number of different parts, some scored, some improvised, and featured a central solo by Bie Hoang on the danbau. While there were moments of cool fusion-phase Miles Davis / Teo Macero moods throughout, Hoang’s solo turned the temperature up, and propelling the sentiment invoked in the piece, the danbau solo had the power of Jimi Hendrix’s crying, left handed guitar licks to invigorate and expand musical consciousness.

S’Unduda transitioned from chilling spaces, to cool interplay of parts, to hot-tempered, even irascible moments of pure ecstasy. Although incorporating elements of improvisation, this composition seemed to move from section to section with precision and never strayed into free jamming. Taking a trick out of the experimental jazz tradition from which Cooke hails, he had the musicians occasionally dispense with the normal way of playing their instruments. According to Denburg, Cooke’s composition pushed VICO’s players out of their comfort zones and off in new musical directions. It was, overall, the crowning achievement of the evening and brought the traditional habits of the musicians and their instruments into a fresh space of spontaneity and connection, working a new magic spell to produce chimerical effects: Wondrous, strange, yet reminiscent of jazz before it, too, became over produced and saccharine as Kenny G and mochachillos. My only regret is that Cooke’s composition, like Bons’, did not have the opportunity to make use of the choir. While not too out of the ordinary for Bons’ influences, the freeing jazz influence might also have moved the Laudate choir to new musical sensitivities.

The final composition for the night was an intercultural musical treatment based on the text of Omar Khayyam’s Ruba’iyat composed by Stephen Chatman of the UBC School of Music. While ultimately sounding like a movie musical, Chatman’s approach was a bit like a mash-up of all traditions. In one movement, he prepared us for a ragtime rendition of the sufi text, at other times it took on a Broadway-esque modality and gave full vent to the magnificent voices in the choir, featuring soprano soloists Heidi Ackermann and Catherine Crouch. Even with the full cohort of VICO musicians, the choir’s presence took over. All styles and individual traditions seemed to fold into the thick, taffy-like consistency of Chatman’s compositional style. What we gained from Cooke, the freedom to enjoy each stringed, skinned, or blown thing swirling around in its own sound, we lost with Chatman’s big sound, which swallowed up distinction and difference, it was at times fanfarish, not meditative, which seemed an odd choice for Omar Khayyam’s famous poem, which was chosen as tribute to a elderly friend (who was in attendance) for whom the Ruba’iyat has been a lifelong inspiration, rather than because of a special affinity that Chatman saw between the musical opportunity provided by VICO and the poet’s words. Chatman introduced his piece saying that this was the greatest compositional challenge of his life. He must have worked very hard to have all those disparate elements fuse into something that was the melting pot to Cooke’s mosaic version of the intercultural society.

By the end of this two-hour concert we had covered nearly 20,000 Earth miles. I had supersonic jet lag, but also the sense that I’d not just traveled, but had also discovered something unexpected, a new world of possibility. VICO, now in its tenth year as an organization, is a marvelous project not only because it encompasses such diverse talent among the cadre of musicians, but because, under Denburg’s guidance, it is going to undiscovered places and imagining new worlds. It is astounding that this re-imagined art has roots in our local backyard. It is Vancouver’s soil and noise that gives rise to this rare and spectacular species of entertainment. If you ever start feeling tired with contemporary, mass, over-produced culture or feeling a lack of optimism with the direction the good old Earth is heading, VICO has just what you need to see the cup as half full again, with room for sumptuous music, the possibility of discovery—exploration without the imperialist overtones that have made homebodies of high-seas orchestral adventurers.


Au revoir Tommy Babin!

I've had the great pleasure to play with the wonderful bassist, Tommy Babin for the last five years or so.

Unfortunately, for us, Tommy is moving with his family to San Diego. I know he'll still stay connected with

us here in the same way he managed to stay connected to his last port of call, Montréal, over the last

half decade or so.

I wish Tommy, his partner Tamara and their beautiful family Anouk and Emile the greatest success

and fulfillment in their travels.


I don't listen to much radio these days but .....

In Vancouver I listen to Nou Dadoun's show A-Train, and

online one of my faves is

Just popped it on to hear Alvin Curran's Maritime Rites.