What’s the fan of a ton of different kinds of music to do? Funky R&B and soulful blues bands play local stages with some frequency. We get some good jazz shows in these parts. Classic rock stalwarts still play to big crowds as adoring fans soak up guitar-driven rock like they’ve done for 50 years. But that’s a lot of ducats to fork over for tickets.
Or, you could let Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) scratch all those itches for the cost of a single ticket.
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The Jacksonville, Fla., 12-piece outfit delivered a two-hour set of all-the-music Nov. 16 at the Robinson Center, from the take-you-to-church, gospel-inflected “Joyful Noise” to the closer, a Motown-flavored “I Want More” that morphed into the Santana instrumental classic, “Soul Sacrifice.” Stops along the way included two songs off Derek & the Dominoes classic “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” record, “I Am Yours,” and “Keep On Growing.” A lengthy workout on Sleepy John Estes’ “Leavin’ Trunk” resolved with “Volunteered Slavery,” originally by post-bop jazz sax master Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The double encore showcased one of the band’s four extraordinary vocalists, Mark Rivers, on a deeply soulful and creative arrangement of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” before a rave-up, horn-driven finish with Tex Ritter’s “Show Me.”
Though half of the songs played were covers, TTB is nothing if not original. Its polished perfection never strays into rote recitation, but instead retains the sense of spontaneity and spark of a band continuously reinventing its catalog in the moment. For what is probably the band’s signature song, the gorgeous “Midnight in Harlem,” from the Grammy-winning 2011 debut “Revelator,” tenor sax player Kebbi Williams and guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks led a long, patient instrumental buildup until Susan Tedeschi sang her passionate song of loss and hope.
An early high point gave Tedeschi a soapbox to deliver the emotionally-charged title track from the band’s newest release, “Signs, High Times,” in which she defiantly addresses fence-sitters in today’s moral minefields.
“No more fooling around/Signs, high times/Choose a seat and sit down … Better make up your mind/Cause we got to get it right this time / So much good at stake/Don’t give into the lies they make …”
Describing the guitar work of Derek Trucks (as well as his role as maestro in TTB) is an exercise in exhausting superlatives. Few players in any generation have come to command the respect of peers and fans alike the way Trucks has, but his reputation is earned not just for his staggering dexterity and bottomless creativity on electric guitar, but also by what he doesn’t play. He’s not a hog for the spotlight, nor do his solos ever feel like ego-stroking displays of prowess. He serves the songs, laying back when necessary, pushing his bandmates with a nod or a glance, building each passage with an impeccable sense of pacing and phrasing. He’s not just great in and of himself, he’s great in the larger context as he listens intently and pushes the whole band to greater heights.
And while he’s a regular on best-of lists in the company of the all-time greats, he proudly stands on the shoulders of influences like Duane Allman and John Coltrane, expanding upon their legacies as he searches for ways to advance his own musical expression. Derek Trucks is a very important artist, a point he drives home every time he plugs in. Saturday night in Little Rock was certainly no exception.
The almost-full auditorium received the opener, Memphis soul outfit Southern Avenue, with hearty enthusiasm. Dynamo singer Tierinii Jackson and her sister/drummer, Tikyra Jackson, possess considerable talent and an abundance of energy and charisma as they played a 40-minute set of funky blues-rock. They’re a band on the rise that we can catch in smaller local venues, so keep an eye out.