17 February 2005

Quiet ecstasy

On his Web site, musician Derek Trucks quotes a question he received about his onstage style:
How can you play such soulful music without expressing it physically in your body language. In other words how can you channel all that energy JUST through your playing without cracking more than a grin. Does this help your expressiveness with the instrument or is it just natural?
Derek replies:
I think early on all the musicians that I respected the most just stood or sat there and played (John Coltrane, Ali Akbar Kahn, Duane Allman). It just depends on the musician but for me it feels more natural. As long as I have been on the road people have told me that they thought I wasn't enjoying playing because I looked so bored, but its actually when I am most aware and engaged.
If I had visited the Web site before buying my ticket for the Derek Trucks Band's concert this evening, I might not have gone. I go to blues concerts for loud, ecstatic music, showmanship, dancing, sheer energy. World music, flute, jazz overtones ... sounds too intellectually demanding. (*blush*) I have been known to go to intellectually demanding concerts, and I have also been known to eat vegetables. Normally I go to concerts for instant gratification.

I had heard of Derek Trucks because of his marriage a couple of years ago to New Englander Susan Tedeschi, who is a nice-looking young woman in a harmless sort of way, even a bit pastel, and she has an earnest, well-bred way of talking, but when she picks up a guitar and opens her mouth, she comes out 100% blues. "(You say you haven't been rocked in a long-long time....")

I knew her music, but I knew nothing about her new husband. Then a few months ago, on the night that the Boston Red Sox won their league pennant, I was in an airport restaurant waiting for my flight to Atlanta. I fell into conversation with a lawyer from Philadelphia, and the talk turned to blues. (If I have half a chance in a conversation, eventually it either turns to Christianity or blues. In the best case, both.) This guy was into advocacy mode for sure: "If you ever get the chance, go hear Derek Trucks. You'll remember my advice." He was right: I remembered his advice when the Aladdin Theater's e-mail newsletter announced the Derek Trucks Band's appearance.

By the time I actually went to the theater this evening, I had seen the Web site. I thought to myself, "Vegetables aren't all that bad, and besides, I paid $19 for this ticket." At the theater, I found a seat very near the front, on the aisle. Reasoning: I can get up and dance, or I can get up and leave, without disturbing others.

It's nearly midnight, and I have an 8 a.m. meeting tomorrow, so I will make this short. I stayed for every minute. It was one of the best concerts I have ever attended. The word "concert" was made for evenings like this: the musicians were completely in concert with themselves and each other. Sure enough, Derek barely moved; often his eyes were closed; he smiled just three times that I could see. But the coordination among the musicians was palpable. The audience (part blues fans, part jazz fans, many Allman Brothers fans, owing to Derek's connection with that band) was also part of the concerted effort. We didn't raise the roof -- often our approval was more like a collective sigh, and the musicians signaled that they noticed the sigh and agreed that they had deserved it. "Yes, you noticed that little flourish, didn't you?" the bassist, Todd Smallie, seemed to say with his broad smile.

I remember endless delicious details. Kofi Burbridge played flute and keyboards -- sometimes so nearly simultaneously that I expect him to be in trouble with the musicians union. Sometimes the music was in the fertile overlap of blues and jazz, and so complex I had to pick which musician to pay attention to; at other times, it turned into a sort of virtuoso funk -- a concept that I would not have entertained before; not sterile at all, it's just satisfying to hear warm old R&B cliches played with such musicianship. Susan Tedeschi sat in twice; when she performed the second of her songs, she looked at her husband as she sang, "I'm glad I let music guide me," and we were all glad.

And there were moments that were so self-contained and complete, even the whirling baffle of the Leslie speaker seemed to be urging us all along. Usually, we say "time flies when you're having fun"; this time there was a period of extended ecstasy that lasted from 10:15 until 10:21 on the stage clock, that I would have sworn was much, much longer. Maybe if we could find a way to pipe that kind of music into our lives, it would be like a fountain of youth.

If you ever get the chance, go hear Derek Trucks. You'll remember my advice.

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