As darkness descended on the Maritime Festival stage‚ the concertgoers who had been lolling leisurely in their lawn chairs in front of a gorgeous Lake Champlain sunset were moments away from being electrified to their feet by The Derek Trucks Band. By the end of the first number‚ Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery‚" the guitarist had led his group to a level of fiery intensity most bands take a whole show to reach.
It's tempting to trot out one cliché after another in describing the music Trucks and company make‚ but such a reaction is also a reminder that a cliché has its roots in a fundamental truth. So while saying Bob Marley's "Rastaman Chant" went from a whisper to a scream‚ then back again -- in an ebb and flow of gentle crescendos intermixing with sharply angular notes --the description doesn't quite capture the brilliant collective action before an increasingly enthusiastic audience.
The brilliant leadership of the ponytailed and baby-faced bandleader wouldn't mean so much were there less to hear around him. Drummer Yonrico Scott and bassist Todd Smallie have played with Trucks for nigh on 14 years‚ but that only accounts for how tight they are as a rhythm section‚ not the gusto they bring to their playing. Likewise‚ Kofi Burbridge never just goes through the motions‚ no matter what role he plays‚ so he couldn't be a more valuable or versatile member of the band‚ playing flute and keyboards including organ‚ clavinet‚ and piano.
Burbridge took an extended run on the piano during "My Favorite Things‚" and though it's not fair to compare his playing to McCoy Tyner's‚ it was near impossible not to think of John Coltrane at that point: the sense of freedom Trucks displayed there so often reminds of the late legendary jazzman. The level of detail in this interpretation of "Afro Blue" (also associated with the great saxophone player) was remarkable‚ too‚ for its evocation of the phrasing of the human voice‚ an approach worth extending further this particular evening as regular DTB vocalist Mike Mattison was‚ as Derek put it during band introductions‚ "on injured reserve" with laryngitis.
The resulting judgment call for substitute singers had mixed results. Scrapomatic's Paul Olsen displayed an authentic emotional depth singing "Done Got Over" that was a stark contrast to his too-polite vocals during his band's opening set. A step up to the mike for "Hook and Sling" only revealed Smallie doesn't have a lead voice and sharing those duties with percussionist Count M'butu encouraged the latter to engage in some shtick that is the total antithesis of the stoic stage presence of the bandleader.
Yet Derek Trucks is nothing if not a gracious musician‚ so it was hardly a surprise to see Grace Potter come onstage with Olsen to share the lead singing of "Key to the Highway." Her mystifying lack of vocal range was all too noticeable‚ but‚ in a final blazing flurry of notes‚ Derek Trucks salvaged this rendition of the Big Bill Broonzy blues.
Those climactic moments were a microcosm of the two-hour-plus DTB set and‚ almost as an exclamation point‚ reaffirmed how perfectly appropriate it was for The Derek Trucks Band play the final concert of Burlington's Maritime Festival. Despite his growing prominence with The Allman Brothers Band‚ and the staunch work ethic that has him working on a night off from ABB‚ Derek Trucks hasn't the celebrity cache carried by either Phish's Mike Gordon or Potter and her band. Yet the ever-serious musicianship of the precocious guitarist and his ultra-tight band was ultimately as mesmerizing as the bright full moon that hung over the Queen City this late summer night.