Music News

Ignoring the Gospel

Take 6 yawns and stretches. It is Friday, February 24, and the a cappella gospel-jazz-blues-soul-pop-doo-wop group is paying the price after winning two Grammys only 48 hours earlier. After collecting the prestigious hardware (one for jazz vocals and one for soul gospel) at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown L.A. on a Wednesday, the group was hustled cross-town to Hollywood to tape a segment of the Pat Sajak Show the next afternoon.

Then it was rise and shine the next morning to catch a jet from LAX to Sky Harbor. The group had been hired to sing at a benefit for Walk in Peace, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide prostheses to kids whose limbs have been blown off in the war in Nicaragua. The members of Take 6 climb stiffly out of the van that's just rolled up to a humongous house nestled in the mountains of Paradise Valley. Someone greets them with "You must be on cloud nine."

"Pillow nine," one of the groggy gospelers replies.
Sleepy or not, when Take 6 ambles onstage for its sound check, and the technician turns up the echo on the mikes on the stage in the quiet backyard, it feels as if the entire Valley has paused for a minute to hear the group's voices boom sweetly overhead. With a fanatical discipline, the group harmonizes "Oh, Mary, don't you weep" about a hundred straight times. Mottled clouds--a beautiful ceiling--hang over the backyard, whose walls are the desert mountains. The sun knifes through the sky, forming a backdrop that's almost too perfect--an MTV-style cliche.

It's almost a shame when the singers swing into "Spread Love"--destined to become gospel's "Stairway to Heaven"--and no vidcams are rolling. The Valley is theirs.

The afternoon sound check, observers agree, is a better showcase for Take 6 than the benefit performance. At night, Take 6 is forced to compete with Martin Sheen and Kris Kristofferson, the rent-a-celebs the event's organizers have hauled in to meet 200 Valley do-gooder socialites who've plunked down 75 smackers apiece to attend. When arranger Mark Kibble leads the group into action, the backyard quiets momentarily, but the din quickly resumes. While the crowd near the stage is transfixed, the part of the party that's gravitated toward the back couldn't care less.

Take 6 has become a chandelier, an ornament you'd expect to find in your typical Paradise Valley manse.

Which is somewhat surprising, considering that the members of Take 6 virtually never fail to come off as anything but the star studs in any kind of star-studded-type affair.

For instance, you ring up battery pitchman and future Detroit Mayor Stevie Wonder these days, and you don't hear Stevie singing, "You just called to say you love me." You hear Take 6 harmonizing. Why? Stevie's only the group's biggest fan. Just the other day, Mr. Motown went on a Take 6 buying spree, snapping up 200 copies of the group's debut album. Wonder's been quoted as saying Take 6 has changed his life. When he hears the group, he's said to wag his puss in double time (Stevie's version of head banging) and smile three times as big.

Take 6's other fans? The usual suspects: Eddie Murphy, Whitney Houston, Leonard Bernstein, Placido Domingo, Isaac Stern, Lena Horne, Diane Sawyer, Spike Lee, and Quincy Jones.

But the members of Take 6 probably aren't too upset over being ignored by half of a Paradise Valley party. Before the bash, the young and restless Mark Kibble claims he doesn't get particularly googly-eyed over the stars going ga-ga for his group's gospel.

"Well," he says, reeking politeness even under stress, "the way I look at it, all those people, the people in high places are people just like everybody else. And, you know, it's good when they like it because they have influence, and people really look up to those kind of people like Leonard Bernstein and Eddie Murphy and whomever else. But they're human beings just like everybody else, and they like what they like."

Indeed, Kibble has more on his mind these days than just signing up celebs to the group's fan club--like making sure that Take 6 is more than this season's sushi. Kibble, who's responsible for the layered and ever-changing textures of his group's arrangements, insists that his group will continue to grow. His arrangements "set us apart," he acknowledges. "It's given us some eclecticism--if I can use that word--and we like that, and we're going to stick with that. Yet, you know, with the next project that we're presently working on, we're going to take it to another level. So you can expect some interesting things to happen."

Like what?
"I'd rather just have it be a surprise."
No stooge, this Kibble. Translation: If you want to hear the gospel according to Take 6, buy the group's next CD, buddy.

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David Koen