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Published: 2012/08/07
by Mike Kaiz

Tedeschi Trucks Band / The Wood Brothers, Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL – 7/18

Summer nights call for the sweet sonnet of southern music. When the sun catches the horizon, the time is right for slide guitar and soulful singing. The Tedeschi Trucks Band welcomed The Wood Brothers to open for them at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park on a warm summer night.

Oliver Wood is a southern blues guitarist whose sultry blues sound was well tempered by his brother Chris’ New York jazz sensibility, purveyed from a full size upright bass. Fronted by the brothers, the trio managed to fit a lot of great music into a relatively short set. Songs like “Luckiest Man” had a feel reminiscent of riverboat trip. Oliver’s voice was a mellow caress supported by the intricate interactions of a minimalist approach to ensemble music.

In 2010, husband and wife duo Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi joined their incomparable talents and successful solo careers in the form of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Their shows are highly anticipated and the band never fails to deliver; the performance at Ravinia was no exception. From the start of the show, the power of Derek’s slide playing filled the pavilion like the penetrating voice of a diva. Supported by Derek’s fellow Allman Brothers Band member Oteil Burbridge on bass, the movements in the band’s songs had a quality that can melt any heart.

Just as the momentum was picking up, Susan was handed a national weather service warning. The forecast of storms that would eventually scatter the lawn section failed to report the tempest on stage. Lightning strikes cast the edge of the pavilion in white light as Kofi Burbridge, Oteil’s older brother, moved from keys to play the flute opposite Derek’s leads. As a member of The Derek Trucks Band, Kofi has had the opportunity to hone his craft with Derek on separate terms from his brother.

The focus transitioned back to Oteil as he wielded what was best described as a bass banjo. The seasoned performer’s stylings emanated with a marimba-like deep howl from the voluminous instrument. The Tedeschi Trucks Band is full of star musicians and yet the delicate layering they accomplished allowed the listener to know where to focus their attention at any given moment. Taking into consideration the presence of two drummers, a three man horn section and two backup singers joining Derek, Susan and the Burbridges, it is a major feat to be able to engage the audience in such a manner.

With a heavy crash of the storm’s thunder, the band let loose the opening chords of “Midnight in Harlem,” a harmonious tune which provided a calming contrast to the passing low front. Derek’s virtuosity shined through not only in the seamless phrasings of his solos but also in how he can pull back from full energy legatos without lag at the end of those solos. He employed his thumb as one pick, his fingers alternated with it to enunciate an extremely soulful meter.

Against Derek’s voicing, which is eloquently influenced by Indian ragas, Susan’s purer blues guitar efforts offered a solid balance. She is a constantly growing musician who won’t rest on her laurels. The Tedeschi Trucks Band provides an incredible environment to nurture that growth. Supported by a horn trio to her left and the impeccable chemistry developed in the tradition of the Allman Brothers to her right, the song writing that she and Derek have practiced blossoms like a lotus flower fed by the constant downfall of the mid-summer rain.

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