The Summit: The Manhattan Tranfer Meets Take 6 was an explosion, in gale wind proportions, of musical enjoyment, creative genius, vocal excellence and a boatload of fun as these two renowned, Grammy Award-winning groups stormed the stage of the Music Center at Strathmore. The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6’s cult fan base was in for a swinging evening of some of the finest vocal harmonizing on the planet as of two of the most gifted a cappella singing groups in the world performed together in concert on Friday night.
Longtime New Yorker quartet, The Manhattan Transfer (TMT) has been around for 45 years. Now in its fourth iteration, the quartet still has that same uniquely American pop sound they created back in 1969. Janis Siegel, Alan Paul, Cheryl Bentyne, and Trist Curless be-bopped to a groove of smooth four-part harmonizing as they rocked The Strathmore with their singular brand of jazz fusion, pop and funk.
Take 6, renowned gospel a cappella sextet has been on the music scene since 1980. Claude McKnight (Brian McKnight’s older bro and the group’s founder), Mark Kibble, Joel Kibble, Dave Thomas, Alvin Chea, and Khristian Dentley, most of whom go back to their college days at Oakwood College in Huntsville Alabama, have created a distinctive a cappella sound that is still going strong. Adding contemporary R&B, and jazz and jazz-influenced spirituals to their original gospel repertoire, Take 6 can sing anything with or without the music and each one holds his own vocal role whether lead or backup in razor sharp six-part harmonizing. And when they are not using their vocal chords and mouths to emulate percussive sounds and wind instruments, they can also play them! Talk about talented.
TMT and Take 6 singularly stand as veritable masters of the vocal harmony genre of music. Their Barbershop/ Doo Wopp brand of song is overlaid with cool jazz fusion and urban-style contemporary R&B, with and without instrumental accompaniment, par excellance. So to hear these two stellar groups perform together was not only a creatively brilliant idea but an unforgettable musical experience that you just don’t get to hear every day. In concert, they sometimes sang as “The Summit” with both groups singing together. They also took the stage alone, alternating to the final segment of a swinging, non-stop 90 minute performance.
The Summit opened with “Killer Joe”. The mood was cool and exciting from the kickoff. Finger-popping, scatting, and using their voices to sound like musical instruments, TMT and Take 6 had the audience in their hands from the start and the audience’s call and response was natural and spontaneous.
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” soared as TMT credibly mimicked the sound of a muffled trumpet. Amazing what the human voice can do. “Tuxedo Junction”, one of the most popular songs in TMT’s long lineup of award-winning hits, was followed by “Candy”, a tribute in memoriam to Tim Hauser, the group’s founder. Slow and mellow, the clarity of each harmonized vocal part of the quartet was audibly sweet. They finished their first solo segment with “Airmail”, a superfast showpiece for drum, piano and bass solos, and a center stage moment for TMT’s newest member, the fearless Trist Curless.
Take 6 took the stage solo with “Just in Time” singing a cappella, with Alvin Chea, the group’s bass vocalist, with mouth sounds so real you’d swear you were listening to a bass instrument. “I’ve Got Life/Spread Love” changed the tempo mid-song from straight up gospel to a funkier more soulful rendition of this audience sing-along. It was one of those message tunes about “gonna win this race” that felt right on-time given the times. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song was next and the happy crowd roared to the jaunty beat.
The Summit returned with “Like Someone in Love”, a romantic ballad that evoked memories of sitting by a lake on a dusky summer night in a lover’s embrace. The magic of their voices, sung without music, transported you to a time and a place that felt real and surreal at the same time.
“Band of the Bands” was pure fun as the group playfully sang tete a tete competing to best the other in a medley of songs both groups have made popular. Take 6 , flouting their vocal prowess on “Route 66” and TMT singing gospel, was a delightful switcheroo—and who would have thought that a white group from New York could blow like TMT did on “Operator,” a spiritual they took to the top many years ago.
Whether vocally simple or complicated, The Summit plumbed the heights on “Nightingale,” a harmonically difficult song to sing with changing tempos and complex harmonies. This song told a moving love story through the voice and it felt as if you were sitting in a movie theater engrossed in one of those delightful Anthony Newly rom-coms smack dab in the middle of Barkley Square.
“Overjoyed”, a Stevie Wonder favorite, showcased Take 6’s instrumental musical talents as two members of the group played guitar, with others on acoustic and electric piano to a sexily lush samba beat on this sweeping romantic ballad.
Freddie Jackson’s “Stand by Me” transported you back to the 60s on one of the best songs ever sung as Take 6 nailed this hit-for-all-times, sung and danced to a Temptations shuffle.
TMT returned on “Trickle Trickle”, a Doo Wopp oldie that conjured up images of tail-finned Cadillacs as the group’s original pianist and music director, Yaron Gershovsky wailed on the piano in high roller Jerry Lee Lewis style.
“Birdland” was a TMT hit from their early days and joined by Take 6 in a syncopated beat from the Charlie Parker era, it roused the audience to height of The Summit and the end of terrifically fun evening of great music.
Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” was a soulful encore that lifted the audience to unimagined glee just through the magnificent quality of the human voice.
The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6 reached the summit of musical excellence in a gravity defying performance of vocal harmony.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6 performed on October 14, 2016, for one-night-only at The Music Center at Strathmore – 10701 Rockville Pike, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events at The Mansion and The Music Center at Strathmore go to the calendar of events.