Take 6
(Heads Up )

al turnerThe title of the legendary a capella sextet’s Heads Up debut and first session since 2006’s Feel Good on their own Take 6 Records is more than appropriate—they’ve been setting standards in the jazz and gospel arenas for two decades, netting as many Grammys as Dove Awards (10) with their lively and soulful harmonies. In taking a decidedly jazzy approach to some of the Great American Songbook’s foundational classics, the group vibes with so many guest artists that they could easily have redubbed themselves Take 7, 8 or 9 and beyond.

After establishing their supreme self-sufficiency on a wistful, whistle and finger snappin’ “Sweet Georgia Brown,” the six backs the witty lead vocal of George Benson—and weaves in and out of his crisp guitar lines--on Nat King Cole’s buoyant piece of advice, “Straighten Up And Fly Right.” Speaking of Cole, his posthumous duet with daughter Natalie was no doubt an inspiration behind one of this collection’s more unique pairings with Ella Fitzgerald’s charming 1938-recorded vocals on “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” Six becomes nine on “Seven Steps To Heaven,” which Take 6 renders colorfully with the zippy vocal zig zags of Al Jarreau and the song’s original lyricist, Jon Hendricks; as if it needed more flavor, flugelhornist Till Bronner chimes in a few minutes into the swirl. Although “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” (with a poetic Aaron Neville) and the grooving gospel twist on “What’s Going On?” (with group member Claude McKnight’s famous brother Brian) will no doubt grab more attention, a heartfelt reading of “Someone To Watch Over Me” stands out for revealing the tremendously sensual voice of newcomer Shelea Frazier as she wrings every ounce of the song’s emotion backed by Roy Hargrove’s increasingly dramatic trumpet.

The final two tracks, “Shall We Gather At The River” and the Quincy Jones/Jeremy Lubbock wordless charmer “Grace,” remind us of Take 6’s gospel roots, and while a clever modern twist on the Sesame Street standard “Bein’ Green” makes it suddenly cool and environmentally proper to be that color. The track features snazzy new lyrics by the family of the song’s composer, the late Joe Raposo. True to the album title, Take 6 sets a new standard of creativity on their latest disc.

Website: www.take6.com

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- Jonathan Widran