(Above [L-R]: Derek Trucks and Todd Smallie. Photo by Mike Greenhaus.)
As chief heir to the Allman Brother Band’s guitar legacy, Derek Trucks is often hailed as the reincarnation of Duane Allman, a quiet, shaggy blond who most frequently speaks through his slide. But, left to his own devices, Trucks seems more comfortable filling the shoes of Sonny Rollins than Brother Duane, favoring subtle, controlled fills over expansive rock ’n’ roll solos. So it makes sense that the Derek Trucks Band—the 26-year old’s longtime pet project—feels more akin to a small jazz combo than a southern-fried jamband.
Performing an intimate theater gig in the basement of New York’s French Institute, a room best suited for language lessons and culinary workshops, the Derek Trucks Band arrived ready to lecture. As expected, the evening’s syllabus concerned improvisation, more specifically the Indian mysticism of Ali Akbar Khan and Cuban jazz of Tito Puente. Seated properly in wooden pews, fans with Eat a Peach T-shirts tucked into their pressed pants waited attentively as Trucks took his invisible podium. Dressed in a collared shirt and sporting pointy brown loafers, Trucks ran through a number of blues chestnuts, in addition to material from his forthcoming album, Songlines.
After opening with “Mahjoun,” Trucks cultured his fans, segueing into an on-point reading of the traditional “Greensleeves.” Like a jazz guitarist, Trucks played sparsely, capturing the blissful restraint of the album’s acoustic numbers with an electric guitar. Both a seasoned veteran and a twentysomething, Trucks (nephew of founding Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks) has performed off-and-on with the Allman Brothers since his 11th birthday, taking on a fulltime position in the iconic band after the new millennium. The baby-faced Trucks is still often pegged as a child prodigy, but has slowly strengthened his individual voice with his own ensemble. Unlike his more visible Allman Brothers conspirators Warren Haynes and Gregg Allman, Trucks doesn’t double as a vocalist but instead leaves his words to singer Mike Mattison. Like Trucks, Mattison is soft spoken, reserving his energy for short bursts on numbers like “Yield Not To Temptation,” before slipping into the shadows as Trucks solos on crowd favorite “Soul Serenade.”
In addition to Mattison, Trucks’ backing band also includes a number of extended ABB-family members: bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott and keyboardist/flutist Kofi Burbridge, brother of Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge. Like a tight jazz combo, Scott serves as Trucks’ primary foil, filling the pockets between the ensemble’s complex solos. While the Derek Trucks Band is essentially a blues-based outfit, sometimes it can be difficult to tell. The evening’s special guest, veteran world percussionist Count Mbutu, helps expand the Derek Trucks Band’s deep ethnic palate.
At the end of the day, most in attendance used Trucks as a vehicle to remember both the Indian voodoo of Ali Akbar Khan and the sweet slide of Duane Allman. Having now outlived Duane, who passed away at 24, Trucks is left with a rich legacy and hopeful future.