Derek Trucks Band, McDowell Mountain Music Festival, Scottsdale, AZ- 4/30
Derek Trucks let me off the hook. He stood next to me backstage after his 80-minute set with his famous Red Gibson in its black case slung over his right shoulder and grinned. Seen and heard so much music lately that its classic melody had slipped right though me without leaving its title. "That was Greensleeves," he laughed. "It’s the song everyone knows but they don’t know why." He was describing the beautiful jam that was played before the great Solomon Burke took the stage for "Got My Mojo Workin’."
"Did you know he was going to sit in?" I asked.
"I had heard rumors that he might," replied Trucks, "but that was incredible. I’m looking forward to seeing Solomon later tonight." Burke closed out the McDowell Mountain Music Festival with a crowd-pleasing, soul shakedown set later that evening.
"I didn’t even know he was here," explained Kofi Burbridge, DTB keyboardist and flutist. "But you know how these things go – when they come together – WHAM (he slams his fists together hard)."
DTB has been making that sound of forces at rest and at motion for quite some time now.
Set opened with a 12-minute jam through the curling, Arabesque space of "Maki Madni." Transcendent. Certainly not a groove that grows tiresome. Surreal sun-drenched beaut when witnessed at 3:30 on a blissful Saturday afternoon in the Arizona valley town of Scottsdale. Mountains in the background. Sun dripping fire overhead. Heads bobbing on the rail where I stood facing Burbridge while eyeballing the otherworldly Trucks. Not quite the Hell on Earth vibe that will come in June in these parts. Contrarily, the weather matched the music just warm enough to want more, craving everything that one can possibly get before the mammoth Sol finished its descent in the West.
Mike Mattison walked slowly to center stage, focusing the energy level of the crowd. His highlights were legion. He ripped through the Old Delta Blues on "Crow Jane" by Skip James. Meanwhile, Trucks wasn’t hitting the note; he was hitting between the notes slide bliss. "For My Brother" pushed the whole band open full – sublime vocals. Trucks modulated the tempo with escalating James Brown chords. He then segued into dueling slide and flute solos with Burbridge who was being kicked in the back by the huge drums of Yonrico Scott. Todd Smallie played the whole set with his traditional big smile and powerful bass. "Everything is Everything" saw Mattison land in overpowering Sly Stone terrain. By the time DTB kicked into the aforementioned "Greensleeves," the band was so tight but loose that they could have bounced through a two hour jam based upon its motif without one unnecessary note. Each melodic fragment was colorful and opaque, which allowed all of the musician’s free space to explore different mood transformations. The essence of great jam music is a strong foundation – this ancient melody certainly allowed for various sonic opinions jettisoned from the stage; playful – neither classical or jazz; just a theme that you know but you don’t know why you know.
Mattison had a charismatic mountain of a stage persona. He has a pathos-riddled voice that mixes the deeply machismo with the soft delicate beauty of a peaceful whisper of lament. I raved to him afterwards that he seemed to be simultaneously channeling Etta James, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding and Al Green. He placed his hand on his heart and tilted his head back with a smile. "Thank you," he replied in shock. "I try." "My God," I thought. "He must know how much range he has doesn’t he?"
After "Greensleeves," there was the usual commotion that comes when a special guest’ is about to sit in could it be Trucks’ wife, Susan Tedeschi, who played at the festival the prior day? Dickey Betts, who led his band Great Southern last night, as well? Alas, no. Whereas Tedeschi had helped torch the stage with the juggernaut "Southbound" as she and Betts exchanged hot vocals and solos, tonight’s star would eclipse that event.
Solomon Burke was escorted onto the stage by two members of his band and he proceeded to praise Trucks. "Is he The Man or what?" LOUD ovation. Second That Emotion, sweet brother, said the crowd. "Let’s do some MOJO!" insisted Burke.
And MOJO is what they did. Burke led the band into "Got My Mojo Workin’," whipped the crowd into delirium and then left the stage leaving Trucks to extrapolate an absolutely gigantic solo out of the ether based upon every theme that he had played throughout the entire 80-minute set sort of an upside down operatic overture of sorts. The Man, he is.
Talent and Humility walk arm-in-arm in this band and let that be a lesson to anybody on this great East Meets West circuit of ours. If this is The Golden Era of Live Music, there is no better example of those twin attributes of robust soul music than DTB.