The summer trudges onward at Hollywood Bowl, and one suspects that the grind of having to come up with something new and fresh every week is taking its toll on the resident Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Luckily a sextet of guys who mostly don’t bother to play instruments at all, Take 6, came swooping in after halftime to provide some of the missing high-voltage musicmaking.
Starting off a concert with a drum solo is not a good idea under any conditions, but it was an omen for a slightly flat opening set by the CHJO. Personable John Clayton’s spoken intros were short of their usual charm; the individual solos were OK but not at the level of previous concerts this summer. The band sounded solid but not inspiring through some standard-issue big band blues (“Foot”), a lackluster ballad with Gil Evans shadings (“Yellow Flowers After”), and the obligatory Ellington salute (“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”).
The gospel strain was supposed to be a semi-unifying thread for the evening, but it didn’t particularly inspire Clayton the arranger, nor was a lengthy, churchy take on Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” the strongest point of vocalist Dee Daniels’ brief set. Rather, she scored best with a belting, swinging vocal over a Basie-meets-R&B chart of Frank Sinatra’s hit “That’s Life.”
Kevin Mahogany’s imposing presence and rich, warm, mellow voice are forces of nature — and he could easily get along very well turning out nothing but Johnny Hartman echoes like his latest album “My Romance” (Warner Bros.) and his beautifully turned “Everything I Have Is Yours” at the Bowl. He did try to show some other facets, erupting like a volcano on Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” but his tone and phrasing seemed too heavy for “Route 66.”
Some worried that Take 6 — whose just-out “Greatest Hits” album (Reprise) contains a pair of new songs amid a diverse collection of back tracks — was gravitating toward the mundane commercial mainstream in recent releases. But this time, they zeroed in on their original iconoclastic core with a spectacular a cappella vocal display, imitating all kinds of instruments, joyously fusing everything from gospel to hip-hop. The wittiest number was their spacy take on Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” where in order to introduce their members, they held up name cards just like the ornery Davis used to do in his final years. Later, the big band joined them, but come on, these guys don’t need a band.