GET HAPPY! Stone, Roberge, McMahon, and Eddy aren’t afraid to educate and amuse.
Maybe it was when saxophonist Kelly Roberge, instrument in hand, leapt off the Cambridge YMCA Theatre stage in the middle of a performance by the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra and fled the auditorium — as if in extreme gastro-intestinal distress. Or maybe it was when, playing the role of the “The Chump Killer” with the Infrared Band at the Lily Pad, Roberge chased down a member of the audience — who proceeded to spit water in his eye. Or maybe it was back that night at the Y when he returned to the stage in a rubber monster mask (long hair, skull with bulging eyes) to chase the rest of the orchestra off stage with his squalling. Whatever the quintessential moment, Quartet of Happiness — who play a CD-release show at Scullers on May 18 — have been grabbing my attention.
The Quartet are Roberge, alto-saxophonist Rick Stone, bassist Kendall Eddy, and drummer Austin McMahon. This outfit is roughly seven years old; the members are also part of the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra. And they’ve been making serious inroads as music educators — but more on that later.
At the Y, they played “So You Think You Can Jazz?” — “America’s favorite jazz reality show,” a routine in which Stone and Roberge “competed” in categories like big-band jazz, bebop, and “funky jazz.” Stone introduced an original called “Dark Signatures” — written “in odd time signatures. It’s very dark and cerebral . . . as I think I am.” He played a beautiful, gently loping ballad, took the horn out of his mouth, and concluded, “Actually, now that I’ve heard it, I don’t think it does use odd time signatures. I’m sorry.”
Over the course of their set, Quartet of Happiness played “Music History” — a three-minute tour from Gregorian chant to classical to minimalism to American jazz and rock. (When a harmony line is added to the polyphonic chant, it becomes “ba-roken” — nyuk, nyuk.) There was also a fiendishly tricky game in which audience members were asked to dial their cell phones based on the 10-note melodies played by the band. (“Winners” got to hear band members’ cell phones ring.)
I might add that Quartet of Happiness are a killer outfit. Their “ii-V7-I Game,” based on classic changes, could pass for the coolest of Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh post-bop, and the rock-beat driven “Let the Monster In” could be a flag-waving avant anthem. And one of Stone’s entries in “So You Think You Can Jazz?” is a beautiful waltz.
The purpose of the theatrical high jinks is two-fold. QoH want to counteract the super-seriousness they find at a lot of jazz concerts. “I don’t like getting bored at jazz concerts, and that happens quite often,” says Roberge. Adds Stone, “Sometimes you go to a concert and the people playing could care less about whether the audience gets it or not.”