Black Music Month Day #25–In Memory of Michael Jackson
I was thinking about writing something new about Michael Jackson for Day #25 of my black music
month series. It seemed only appropriate to commit some new words to paper to mark the occasion of him being gone for two years. But during the virtuoso super group Take Six’s set at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, they broke into a musical tribute to the King of Pop with their own brand of mind-boggling tight-wire “edutainment.” Mere words will never match up to the honor and respect that their performance demonstrated. Can’t top it; won’t even try.
The kind of channeling demonstrated in their MJ tribute on “Remember the Time,” for example, has kept this group producing high quality, thought provoking music since they formed in 1980. So what’s so special about this primarily a cappella ensemble? After all, this kind of genre was wildly popular back in the early 20th century, sustaining its relevance mostly in the gospel tradition up to the 1960s. It’s really difficult to sustain audiences’ attentions performing a style that’s nearing its century benchmark. Where’s the appeal?
In Take Six’s performance I heard a veritable history of African American music making compressed into one set of music. Each of the members is phenomenally gifted with the gift of mimicry in vocal and instrumental timbres. And the arrangements—stunning in their complex craft and non-repetitious quality—are marvels to try and comprehend. The vocal histories embedded in a Take Six performance encompasses numerous rhetorical constructs, including: the early Quartet style; the chorale style made popular in historically black college groups; the tight-knit instrumentally-inspired harmonies made famous by Lambert, Hendrix, and Ross; the male group singing of male groups from the Temptations to the Boyz to Men, to Jodeci. And that’s not including the mesmerizing lead vocals in any one of these distinctive sonic settings.
Take Six also moves through numerous genre configurations: jazz-swing complete with walking bass lines, funk, gospel, and various forms of hip-hop. In each arrangement the members effortlessly trade lead vocals against plush harmonic backgrounds; create rhythm tracks plus percussion; provide horn lines and synth pads—they execute just about anything one can find in a historically specific composition. It was stunning to hear them beat box their way right into the hip-hop era and recreate digital sound organizations with the same authority and spot on delivery that they did in earlier styles.
Although I believe that all music is of its time and space, Take Six makes us to transcend the here and now. Clearly this group will be considered historic and singular; they can never be contained by the description: “Christian a cappella group.” They are the history of black music in the USA.
The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival affords an opportunity for local photographers to capture these moments up close and personal. One of them, Hope Rose, a local institution, has become an amazing chronicler of local Wilmington history. These photos of Take Six represent this great night of music through her eyes.