The opening concert in Rockwell Hall's "Great Performers Series" was a hit in many ways. There was Take 6, one of the premier vocal groups of the last couple decades, onstage and -- think about it -- three members, half the group, had roots in Buffalo. It was a great homecoming for both audience and band and, in addition, a fine way to kick off a season.
The group's Web site calls Take 6 a "Christian vocal jazz group" while the Wikipedia entry for them applies the label "a cappella gospel music sextet" to their art and, truth be told, that last description is closer to the core of what they are and do. The group's jazz leanings received ample space during the concert, but so did their gospel side.
Although Quincy Jones and a lot of other jazz notables have joined it in its projects, Take 6's musical roots and improvisational sounding arrangements all hail back to the church. It is in that holy place where vocal filigrees can bounce and weave around the basic heart of the music, decorating theology with an individual passion and grace that meshes easily within the forgiving whole.
"Straighten Up and Fly Right," made famous by Nat "King" Cole (among others), and the classic Miles Davis tune, "Seven Steps to Heaven," were both tailor-made for the singers' imitations of a trombone quartet (in "Straighten Up"), a trumpet (in the Davis piece) and the vocal percussion riffing of Mark Kibble. But the real meat of the performances came in the quick vocal exchanges and subtly powerful harmonies as the lead lines switched from one singer to another.
On the gospel front, a soulful version of "Wade in the Water" and a pew-rocking rendition of "Shall We Gather at the River" that featured a stirring bit of witnessing by Joey, the younger of the two Buffalo-raised Kibble brothers, had hands fluttering in the air in testimony.
Take 6's stage presence and the comfortable, good-natured ribbing that went on between the members of this long-established group virtually invited the audience to participate with them; it was no surprise then that, as the concert wore on, the crowd easily fell into the call-and-response patterns fed to them frequently by the band.
It was also no surprise that the audience vociferously clamored for the band to come back onstage for an encore. Their take on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and an astonishing vocal duel-filled rendition of "Mary Don't You Weep" topped off the evening with a highly charged yet graceful performance.
Saturday night in the Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall.