Despite having released numerous Grammy award-winning albums, I find myself having to admit that prior to receiving this set I had only encountered Take 6 on two occasions. Having never taken the opportunity to track down any of their eight previous releases, my first encounter with Take 6 was through their guest appearance upon the self-titled 1992 debut of one Brian McKnight. Indeed, with their characteristically tight harmonies they provided the background vocals for “Is the Feeling Gone.” Following this, they would next cross my path upon Quincy Jones’ 1995 release Q’s Jook Joint where they were featured on the James Moody-penned “Moody’s Mood For Love” alongside Moody, Rachelle Ferrell, and coincidentally Brian McKnight. Once again their harmonies shone as they offered an intricate backdrop for the expressive vocals of Ferrell and McKnight.
Interestingly, within the sleeve notes to Q’s Jook Joint, Jones stated that prior to its recording one of his greatest regrets was not having had the opportunity to work with McKnight. However, he had, of course, already had the chance to work his brother Claude. As a member of Take 6 Claude McKnight III previously worked with Jones on 1989’s legendary “Back on the Block” for the Sarah Vaughn collaboration “Setembro (Brazilian Wedding Song).” Significantly, within the sleeve notes to Jook Joint he would also write the following:
“Take 6 is the greatest vocal ensemble on the planet. On this subject there is nothing else to discuss. That’s the way it be’s.”
With a reputation that more than speaks for itself Take 6 have received Grammy nominations for every studio album that they have ever released. Now, 12 years and eight albums on from their million-selling self-titled debut, they have released their first ever in-concert recording. Recorded live at the Blue Note in Tokyo, Japan last November, the album features a diverse array of songs with material ranging from gospel standards, popular interpretations, to their very own material. Furthermore, with little or no instrumentation this is a release which more than displays the sextet’s considerable vocal prowess.
Generally the recording expresses a need for optimism in these our troubled times. Having opened with their brisk version of the Thomas Dorsey standard “If Ever We Needed the Lord Before (We Sure Do Need Him Now),” they move on to inspirational songs such as “I’ve Got Life/Spread Love,” and articulate the possibility of redemption through the striking original “Over The Hill is Home” and the established “I’m on My Way.” Elsewhere, there are readings of the Elmer Bernstein/Mack David original “Walk on the Wild Side,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” and the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You.” Interestingly, while “Smile” continues the generally upbeat mood, their accapella reading of the Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell duet transforms the song into a contemporary gospel affair where the origin of the “love” has a dual source. In addition to these Take 6 also treat the audience to other favourites such as “So Much 2 Say” and “Mary.”
Nevertheless, one of the most intriguing moments is their tribute to Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” During the intro, one member states that they want the audience to know who they are “one at a time.” Indeed, by tapping into what he describes as the “Blue Note New Tokyo Jazz Vibe” they produce their first ever (Vox) instrumental track. By highlighting each of the group members individually this jazz ensemble piece is evidence of talent beyond vocal harmonies. With baritone Cedric Dent on a real piano, the remainder of the group recalls the legacy of artists such as Bobby McFerrin by literally using their voices as instruments. Bass singer Alvin Chea provides acoustic bass; Joey “Miles” Kibble offers a muted trumpet; Claude Mcknight III a trombone; Mark Kibble an alto sax; and David Thomas the guitar, drums and percussion. Their impeccable harmonies create a sense of unity wherein individual voices are often inseparable, there can be no doubting their ability to carry a song. While many modern vocal groups are often essentially a solo artist accompanied by a collection of “backing singers” Live features virtually the whole of Take 6 on lead duty at various stages.
In many ways live albums are a curious thing. They often seek to prove the ability of the artist outside of the studio, but in doing so fail to provide any real vibrancy. An artist may be able to sing “just like on the album” but when that is the case you begin to feel that you might as well just listen to the album. Indeed, a recording can never really hope to be a substitute for the real thing and can occasionally be merely an in-concert version of the album: the only difference being the onset of sporadic applause. However, this does not seem to be the case here. As with many great live albums Take 6 encourage and interact with the crowd and create a certain kind of intimate ambience. This may not be in the same league as my live yardstick, Donny Hathaway’s Live, and I may not be familiar with all of the studio material, but the act of listening to Take 6 without the aid of technical gimmickry is highly rewarding. With exceptionally dynamic vocals and an array of songs that portray a rich heritage which encompasses Motown, jazz, gospel and even at times invokes the legacy of slave songs this is a release which will be a welcome addition my relatively small but expanding gospel collection. Even so, if you get the chance to see them in the flesh, do not hesitate to do so. However, while I am waiting something tells me that it won’t be long before I manage to track down those other releases.