“The music in my particular ‘Alleluia’ cannot be made to sound joyous. It is a slow, sad piece…,” Randall Thompson once said of his 1940 composition. Take 6, the Seventh Day Adventist singing group, failed to heed Thompson’s advice, instead syncopating the rhythm and paring down the choral arrangement to six voices. The lyrics consist only of the title word repeated over and over, the four syllables then broken into various configurations, to which the singers layer their voices in wondrous modern jazz harmonies. Their version of “Alleluia” is indeed joyous.
It’s the only entirely a cappella performance on the sextet’s first all-religious album since 2008’s The Standard, which mixed sacred and secular material. Light percussion touches, including finger cymbals, tambourine, and congas, are added to the group’s innovative blend — a synthesis of black and white gospel quartet traditions and the advanced vocal jazz harmonies developed by the late Hi-Los and Singers Unlimited leader Gene Puerling — on the other ten tunes, including spirited treatments of the Selah Jubilee Singers’ “Down Here I’ve Done My Best” and the Swan Silvertones’ “You’re Gonna Need Me.” Stevie Wonder lends lead vocals and harmonica to his own “Can’t Imagine Love Without You.” The title track, the only Take 6 original in the bunch, cleverly contrasts the 88 keys on a baby grand, the five fingers of a hand, and uncountable grains of sand with the one savior who rose, they sing, to satisfy the ransom for my soul. (Shanachie)