But their over-arching imperative these days is educational. Although Quartet of Happiness started up when Stone, Roberge, and Eddy were New England Conservatory grad students, the idea didn’t lock in until the two saxophonists’ post-graduate trip to Japan as part of a Glenn Miller tribute band. (They also played arrangements of Japanese pop and traditional melodies.) Most of the shows took place in schools, where the young Japanese students sat at perfect attention listening to American jazz. Roberge and Stone found that if they cut up a bit — sometimes walking through the audience as they played — they’d get a reaction. The two worked out a routine where they’d enact a battle, the band’s arrangement of the traditional “Itsuki Lullaby” turning into funk. By the final show — a formal hotel concert — the mock battle had turned into a real mutiny, with the band director walking off stage.
When Roberge and Stone returned to the States, the band’s theatrical bent had taken hold (the mutiny scenario was transformed into their “Lullaby of It’s Mutiny”), but so had something else: theatrics as music education. They began booking themselves into schools, and they came up with ways of using eurhythmics, games, and stories as teaching tools. Two years ago, they won a grant from Ernie Boch’s Music Drives Us foundation to take music into under-served schools. Since then, they’ve taken Quartet of Happiness to the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Last October, they found themselves playing a month in Framingham and surrounding communities. In the meantime, they’ve started Music Smiles, their own non-profit sponsorship to help bring their educational clinics and concerts to schools whose arts-education budget has been slashed. As well as being a release party for their second CD, The Monster Returns! (Creative Nation Music), the Scullers gig is also an official kickoff for the Music Smiles program.
The jazz drummer Beaver Harris used to call it “the 360-degree music experience.” Percussionist Jerry Leake calls it Cubism — which also is the name of his new album (on his own Rhombus Publishing label), and which he celebrates at Ryles this Friday. These concepts take in the continuum of the jazz and ethnic-folklore traditions — not just sequential chronology, but also simultaneity: all traditions existing at once, side by side and on top of one another. To that, Leake would also add the varied perspectives of mathematics involved in his encyclopedic knowledge of world rhythms, and the density one associates with Cubist visual art. The album’s subtitle is Shapes of Sound and Time.
CUBIST: Long a valued sideman, Leake is finally stepping out in front of his own band.
That may all sound daunting, but Cubism is, above all, an album of body-moving grooves. Long a valued sideman in town, Leake is best known for his collaborations with Moroccan-dub jammers Club d’Elf and Indo-Afro-jazz fusionists Natraj. He pinpoints Cubism as being halfway between the loose, trippy jams of the former and the tightly composed formalism of the latter.
With its orchestral scope, crystalline transparency, and melodic focus, Cubism sounds like a band, but most tracks are no more than two or three people: Leake playing layers and layers of varied percussion, he and his wife, Lisa, overdubbing vocals, and Randy Roos — who was also Leake’s production partner — playing a small arsenal of guitars.