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Live at the Stain Bar
DVD Adventure

by Quartet of Happiness
Self-published, 2006
DVD, 38:22 mins, col.
Sales: $US10.00 + $5.00 shipping
Distributor’s website: http:// www.quartetofhappiness.com.

Reviewed by Kathryn Adams


If you have ever wondered if there is a DVD out there that features four consummate jazz musicians, one sleeping saxophonist, a monster, a one-legged lover, toilet paper and a garden hose, here it is – the zany, madcap 38 minute role-playing DVD adventure with The Quartet of Happiness, Live at the Stain Bar.

The ensemble, formed in 2003, plays original avant-garde theatre jazz while acting out a series of short, wacky and often frantic skits. The result is a high-energy performance, both visually and musically, by four likeable and very talented musicians.

Kelly Roberge (saxophone), Rick Stone (saxophone), Kendall Eddy (bass) and Austin McMahon (drums) all have Masters degrees in music and impressive CVs. They have studied and performed with a host of accomplished jazz musicians like Bob Brookmeyer, George Garzone & Jerry Bergonzi. However, jazz lovers will be disappointed to discover that this DVD is far more about absurdist theatre than music. Certainly there are tantalizing snippets of impressive bebop in several pieces. Seeing them competitively trading phrases over a ii V I progression leaves no doubt that these guys have really got their chops down. The "Radio Song" skit showcases the quartet’s abilities across a variety of genres including rock, funk, soul, Latin, folk, classical and even country music. But you are only given a taste of their high standard of musicianship and if you are here for the music you will certainly be left craving for more.

What Roberge, Stone, Eddy and McMahon manage to do, however, is draw from their wide range of musical experience and channel it into The Quartet of Happiness to produce a variety of original pieces that fit perfectly with their inane story telling and crazy role-playing antics. Watching Roberge and Stone act out their skits with the help of the occasional monster mask or lame prop while playing saxophones is a bizarre experience at first, a bit like being a part of someone’s manic episode, but once you go with it, you’ll be taken on a journey where anything is possible.

This is not a slick production. Very little energy has gone into costumes or set design. There are repeated wardrobe malfunctions. The lighting is poor and the sound is appalling in parts. But despite all this, the DVD has an unsophisticated raw energy that gives a sense of what it would be like to see the Quartet perform live in this intimate setting. The Stain Bar in Brooklyn is a unique arts lounge that has been described as being more of a cultural/community centre than a bar where artists are invited to perform or try out their certain brand of art on audiences for a small donation. Our lively saxophonists use the entire space as their stage, busting out of their dishevelled set in various guises to interact with their audience.

The DVD is available online through the Quartet’s website http://www.quartetofhappiness.com for $US10 + $5 shipping and handling. In addition to providing the usual information like news, bios and dates, the website allows you to ’interact’ with the group via email. They even invite you to send in storyline ideas that they can set to music and perform, promising you a ‘T’ shirt if they become famous on your idea! There is also a touchingly honest, live performance review from Kelly Roberge’s Grandmother:

"It’s dreadful, it makes me want to cry"!

Apart from performing and touring, The Quartet of Happiness has been taking their show into schools to teach role-playing, movement, and improvisation through music. It has been my unfortunate experience that music programs in public schools usually range from sadly lacking to non-existent. If the zany antics of The Quartet of Happiness can open the world of music and theatre to our children and inspire their teachers then it is indeed a welcome change.

If by some strange chance you had never wondered if there was a DVD such as this out there it still might be worth a look. It is experimental theatre and like all experiments, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But at only 38 minutes running time, it’s not much of a loss if it doesn’t work for you.




Updated 1st November 2006

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