Around the half way point of their robustly entertaining collaborative concert last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, the Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 turned the tables on each other and began covering each other’s hits. Take 6, the longstanding vocal sextet, began by turning a snippet of the Transfer’s “Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone” medley into a a roots music mash-up that fell somewhere between gospel and doo-wop. The quartet-strong Transfer countered with Take 6’s “Mary,” replenishing the song’s spiritual swagger with a revival-esque fervor all its own. Back and forth it went until both ensembles settled into the vintage Transfer hit “Operator,” serving up a joyous gospel charge that spoke not just to the potency of the 10 vocalists onstage but to an endearing sense of camaraderie that made this combo platter concert, aptly dubbed “The Summit,” so enjoyable.
Though their respective repertoires over the decades have led both groups through myriad styles, the Transfer and Take 6 are, at heart, jazz groups with a deep affection for harmony cultivated through instrumentally leaning blueprints. The Tranfer’s mix of male and female vocalists operated as a horn section – sometimes overtly so, as in Janis Siegel’s trombone like scatting during “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” The all male Take 6 modeled itself on band designs favoring rhythm sections, whether it was through modern touches of beatboxing or bass singer Alvin Chea’s punctuated improvising, which was modeled closely on the rubbery tone of an acoustic double bass.
Sometimes such craftiness underscored glorious, keenly orchestrated collaborations, as in the sleek cool both groups provided the show opening “Killer Joe” In the other instances, specifically during the brilliant Gene Puerling arrangement of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” such instrumental inclination underscored the singers’ artful command of harmony.
Both groups enjoyed fine moments apart from one another, as well. Take 6 nicely showcased its pop-soul preferences during a joyous take on Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” that juggled vocal leads, vocal percussion and even a brief exhibit of instrumental color on keyboard and guitar (although the bulk of the program used the Transfer’s regular trio, led by longtime pianist Yaron Gershovsky). The Transfer’s solo highlight was unavoidably sentimental – a lovely, elegant performance of “Candy” dedicated to the memory of group founder Tim Hauser, who died in 2014.
But it was the collaborative moments, like Take 6 joining the Transfer for the final chorus of the latter’s career-defining hit “Birdland” or the exchanges the groups batted off each other during the encore version of “What I’d Say” that unlocked the potential of 10 voices in unison celebration. That’s where The Summit went over the top.