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If the sold-out, packed house at Brendle Recital Hall were not evidence enough of popularity, Wikipedia lists 99 professional a cappella groups, including Chanticleer, the King's Singers, Manhattan Transfer, Pentatonix, the Swingle Singers, and Take 6, let alone the popular television series Sing-Off, Glee, The Voice, and American Idol, with Fame on the fringe. Add the amateur Barbershop groups, Sweet Adelines and SPEBS (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. [SPEBSQSA]) and you have a sizeable audience for this preponderantly American art form.
Started by six male undergraduates at Oakwood College (now University) in Huntsville Alabama in 1980 under the name Alliance, Take 6 changed its name a few years later under the influence of "Take Five," the Paul Desmond/Dave Brubeck hit and a game-changer in the world of jazz, especially in the version of the young jazz singer, Al Jarreau. Indeed, the influence of Jarreau is felt throughout the repertory of Take 6, with its fits of scat singing and almost continuous beatboxing.
The enthusiastic audience was on its feet a number of times during this 90-minute, uninterrupted show, not only to applaud but also to clap rhythmic off-beats, sing when instructed, and just dance a bit! First appearing in Winston-Salem 27 years ago, Take 6 has won 10 Grammy Awards as well as a slew of other major awards and remains on the cutting edge of the recording industry.
Take 6 interspersed popular cover-songs with a couple of originals, giving us an entertaining cross-section of rhythm and blues, jazz and gospel music. However, it is the faster, jazzed-up songs that caught my personal fancy because of the intricacy and precision of the delivery. On the poignant and melodic side were such classics as "The Windmills of Their Minds" (Michel Legrand), whose languorous tempos allowed us to hear far-out harmonies and gentle colors.
Not content with just voice, a couple of songs added instruments – Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" benefitted from a few guitar chords and the requisite piano, played by members of the group, while "Windmills of Their Minds" had a subtle string chord track, but so discreet as to be almost unnoticed. Each of the six singers used a microphone, occasionally two mikes – the two mikes had strictly different functions; the second was plugged into a different, more reverberant circuit for percussive effects (beatboxing).
Their 2018 album Iconic, which included Take 6's cover of Christopher Cross' "Sailing." made number one on the jazz charts and included several hits we heard at WFU: "Back in Love Again" (LDT), "Change the World" (Eric Clapton), "Got to Get You Into My Life" (Beatles), and an endearingly goofy version of "Roof Garden" (Al Jarreau). A musical debate pitting three singers against the other three in a non-verbal duel of syllables, pitches, and rhythms, "So Much to Say," was the climax of the evening. The virtuosity and precision of the singers was astounding and the harmonies, breath-taking.
A moment of tender wistfulness was struck at the very end, when the six singers put their microphones on the floor and sang very quietly and tenderly Randall Thompson's "Alleluia." It took a moment of adjustment to get used to the unamplified voices, but the emotional impact was all the more direct. (It had also taken several moments to get used to the amplification (read "loudness") at the beginning of the concert.)