The Derek Trucks Band
November 6, 2009
The Derek Trucks Band concluded the second of their extended sets at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, Vermont with "Key to the Highway" and "My Favorite things," each tune a mirror image of the other and an all but perfect distillation of the preceding near-three hours of stellar musicianship. The interweaving of raw intensity and graceful lyricism was the sextet's modus operandi for the course of this early winter evening, an approach they could have hardly handled more skillfully. For both dyed-in-the-wool fans and novice listeners getting their introduction to DTB, this performance might well be considered definitive.
Certainly the two numbers constituted a summary statement on the part of Derek Trucks. The former tune, a Big Bill Broonzy blues, appeared on Derek and The Dominos' Layla (Atco,1970), the defining moment of Eric Clapton 's career and one on which Slowhand was inspired no end by the late Duane Allman, whose playing on both slide and open-fingered lead guitar Trucks still often recalls but has now eclipsed in both intensity and density.
The selection from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music functioned as an homage to the jazz icon, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane , whose elliptical sonorities are so often in evidence in the pony-tailed man's playing in general but which were also prominent in the midst of keyboardist/flautist/vocalist Kofi Burbridge's piano solo and Count M'butu's gentle percussion, the detail of which was easy to discern thanks to the exemplary acoustics in this gorgeously restored opera house.
Yet the impact of the final half-hour of playing would not have had this power had the preceding two sets not led so logically to that point. The coherence of the song selection pointed out not just the spirituality that permeates the music of this band but, more to the point, the exquisite control of the musicians who, led by Truck's profound intuitive sense, exhibited a command of dynamics that took them from a whisper to a scream (and back again). Meanwhile, the material ranged from the sacred (the gentle crescendos of King Curtis ' "Soul Serenade") to the profane (Son House 's "Preachin' Blues"). Cliches may abound in describing the playing of The Derek Trucks Band, but the fact remains: they restore the truth to the truisms.
Though both sets were identically proportioned along the lines of 75% instrumental and 25% vocal, vocalist Mike Mattison handled the inenviable task of stepping in and out of the spotlight with his customary good-natured aplomb. The gravelly texture of his voice remains as effective on "Ge What You Deserve, one of the few culls from Already Free (BMG, 2009) as his falsetto on "This Sky." And it may be true that Mattison's reading of the latter tune from Songlines (Sony, 2006) inspired Trucks' jawdropping solo.
Mattison continues to be able to belt it out, too, as he cut loose with as much abandon as his boss during the hard-charging execution of another Dominos' cut, "Anyday." Reaffirming his own versatilityhe plays flute in addition to multiple keyboardsKofi Burbridge joined in to sing backup and further bolster vocals in a number that calls for voices to be front and center.
Encoring with "Hook and Sling," Trucks and his group posited themselves as a dance band, the leader engaging in yet another of several instrumental jousts with Burbridge. The baby-faced wunderkind has seemingly never enjoyed playing rhythm guitar as much as he does now, so he and the sibling of Allman Brothers' bassist Oteil sent syncopated funk flying in all directions. This coming just before bassist Todd Smallie took a solo that demonstrated how he, along with hard-working drummer Yonrico Scott, so fluently underpinned the sound of the band all night.
It was an intelligent and appreciative sold-out audience that witnessed this scintillating performance in the southern Vermont city. They were formally respectful in their acclamations of what they were experiencing, even demonstrating instinctive anticipation of what would prove memorable moments throughout the course of the evening. The observers were nearly as unified in their focus as the band was in unison with each other, suggesting everyone present in the Paramount Theatre will have the experience of November 6 2009 indelibly etched in their memory.