In a creative climate populated by here-and-gone "success" stories and flash-in-the-pan imitators, TAKE 6 can rightly lay claim to having given the world of contemporary music something truly lasting and uniquely its own. Performing in an all-voice, no-instrument a cappella format, the six-man group - on its debut recording (1988's million-plus selling Take 6) - gave the world thick beds of head-spinning vocal arrangements and harmonic eloquence literally never heard before. And now with 10 albums, millions of units sold, and innumerable Grammy, Soul Train, Dove, and Down Beat magazine awards to its credit, Take 6 continues to surprise, delight, and amaze at every turn with its latest release, Beautiful World.
"Classic, black gospel quartet singing is really what Take 6 grew out of when we started back in the mid-'80s," says group member Cedric Dent, a University of Maryland Ph.D. in music theory. "In fact, a lot of songs on our first CD came out of that vintage quartet repertoire."
While never losing that grounding in bedrock gospel, over the years Take 6 has built a style and catalog of songs that draw from so many diverse genres of popular music it renders their sound happily and almost hopelessly difficult to categorize. Anyone trying to break down the absolutely singular Take 6 signature sound would find themselves looking at a list that included gospel, jazz, doo-wop, R&B, pop, '60s soul, and hip-hop - and that's just for starters. Take 6 has always been, and remains, the most original, innovative, and inimitable vocal ensemble ever to make music for the masses.
Performing recently with Stevie Wonder on the internationally viewed and multi-network broadcast "America: A Tribute To Heroes," Take 6 still maintains the same immediacy and impact on modern culture it has held for well over a decade. "We are the first to admit that as long as a song itself is excellent and it catches our ears - we are willing to respectfully and lovingly borrow from all genres of music," says Cedric. "And we've never been afraid to combine styles that other people might consider unlikely or improbable."
While best-known for their distinctive a cappella singing, on Beautiful World the group - which co-produced the project with Marcus Miller - decided to explore the combination of its rich vocal textures with instrumental accompaniment. The outcome speaks for itself, as Take 6 holds to its revered heritage, while expanding into new and equally exciting dimensions.
"A cappella has always been the mainstay of this group," Cedric explains, "but we all play instruments as well. In our new show we do all vocals as well as instrumental accompaniment, which takes the Take 6 live experience to a whole new level of performance. In the studio, a lot of producers don't know how to handle the huge vocal sound we have and make it work with a band," Cedric explains, "but we feel like Marcus struck the perfect balance between the two, and it gave us freedom to explore arrangements and ideas that fall beyond the realm of strictly a cappella."
Comprised of eleven carefully selected, uplifting classic songs from the annals of gospel, pop, rock, and R&B, Beautiful World reprises some of the greatest music of the 20th century, while also boldly reconstructing standards into wholly new works. "We wanted to do nothing but songs that had been big and enduring hits," Cedric says, "but that also had messages of hope and encouragement, whether spiritual or with that message clearly implied."
It would be easy, without a listening, to write off the concept as mere recycling, but with the album's opening cut, an exhilarating take on the Doobie Brothers' 1976 smash, "Takin' It To The Streets," there can be no doubt that once again Take 6 has decisively gone where others fear to tread. The group breathes new life into "People Get Ready" - Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions' 1960s soul anthem - and completely revamps the album's title song, first known in the early '80s as "I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)," by Steely Dan's Donald Fagen.
"That song, in its original form, was done tongue-in-cheek with an almost cynical bent," says Cedric. "But the chorus, separated from the verses, can be performed and received as very happy and inspiring. That's what we went with, and we wrote new lyrics to the verses that give it an actual gospel message."
With only one personnel change since its inception, Take 6 has not only maintained a strong, emphatic legion of fans over the years, but can boast a longevity that is rare for any group today. Cedric has an easy and convincing explanation for that. "Music is all we know, all we've done, and probably all we'll ever do," he concludes. "I think it's safe to say Take 6 has locked into a permanent, lifetime gig."