- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tradition can be an important part of creating music. Sometimes it’s preserving and embracing tradition and sometimes it’s respecting tradition and using it to create new and different music.

This week, both sides are showcased in area performances. One takes on many traditions and builds fresh, unique, high-powered music out of them. Another lovingly offers up both classic and current folk songs in an intimate setting.

Guitarist Derek Trucks is 26 years old but has been on the road playing in bands for 16 years. He’s been leading the Derek Trucks Band since he was 15; the band — performing Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore — has recorded four studio albums, each of which received significant critical acclaim.

Last year, the band released a double live album, “Live at Georgia Theatre,” that finally showed this tight, versatile group in its best light.

Mr. Trucks also has recorded and played with the likes of Junior Wells, Johnny Copeland, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. And for the past six years, he’s been playing slide guitar in the pioneering Southern rock band the Allman Brothers. Between his work in the Allman Brothers band and his own band, he plays more than 200 shows a year.

Mr. Trucks and his band play some of the most exciting, innovative and creative music in the rock-jazz end of improvisational music.

“Trying to find some new ground that feels familiar to people is definitely one of the things we’re after,” Mr. Trucks says. The music can begin in many different “roots”-based styles, from Latin to soul to jazz to blues to rock.

Mr. Trucks also has other ideas.

“The Indian classical thing and those motifs are very much on my mind when I’m writing, and a lot of those modes and those scales,” he says. “So I definitely want to incorporate it in a way that’s seamless with either soul or blues tunes, so it’s not as much of a shock to people and it sounds like something that you’ve heard rather than something that’s different.”

The Florida-born guitarist grew up revering the blues-rock slide guitar legend Duane Allman. His uncle is Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, but Derek Trucks didn’t spend any real time around the band until after he had begun his own musical career. He was playing in blues bands on the road by the time he was 10.

The Derek Trucks Band began taking form soon after that. Bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Yonrico Scott have been with Mr. Trucks for 11 years. Keyboard player and flutist Kofi Burbridge has been with him for six. This is a tight, disciplined band, whose members can anticipate each other’s moves and change directions on a dime. The addition of the vocals of Mike Mattison two years ago seems to have been the final piece.

The live double album showcases how the band can shift smoothly from the bluesy swing of Susan Tedeschi’s “Gonna Move” to the hard bop jazz-meets-rock sound of the band’s version of Rahshaan Roland Kirk’s “Volunteered Slavery” and finally on to the Indian classical patterns of “Sahib Teri Bandi-Maki Madni.”

• • •

For Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen, playing at a venue like the Tortilla Factory in Herndon for the Folk Club of Reston/Herndon is just about perfect. The casual intimate setting, where they’ll perform on Tuesday, is typical for this Vermont-based couple who have been on the road playing folk songs for more than 30 years.

“We’ve become kind of reconciled to the idea that we’re sort of below the radar and the national media is not really focused on the kind of thing we do,” Mr. Gillette says. “But that sort of gives another benefit, which is that we play for people who really love the music, who do have that deep appreciation for not only traditional music, but for songwriting.”

Songwriting is an important part of the music they play. Mr. Gillette is a product of the ‘60s folk revival, and in the mid-‘60s he co-wrote the folk classic “Darcy Farrow,” which has been recorded by Ian and Sylvia, John Denver, Nanci Griffith and others. Through the years, his songs also have been recorded by Garth Brooks, Linda Ronstadt and Kenny Rogers.

Although he has had success selling his songs to popular artists, he has never given up his commitment to folk music, both in his writing and performing.

“We always feel that being able to play for the folk music audience gives us a greater freedom, a wider spectrum of issues and ideas,” Mr. Gillette says. “And also people listen more perceptively. They expect story. They expect wordplay and humor and insight.”

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