Composer, bandleader, and multi-reedist Matt Darriau first began appearing on recordings by the Boston large ensemble Orange Then Blue, and his interest in musical influences outside what is generally regarded as the jazz world was apparent even in those early days. The Darriau-penned "Balkan Bounce," recorded in 1986, is the very first track on the first OTB album, Music for Jazz Orchestra, and can be seen as a precursor to much of his work over the next 20 years. Darriau can swing with the best of them (as can be heard on recordings by the '30s and '40s jazz-focused Ballin' the Jack), but traditional Balkan, klezmer, Celtic, and Gypsy influences have always held an important place in Darriau's musical universe. Recordings by OTB and Darriau's New York-based Paradox Trio find the reedman giving traditional folk material a contemporary improvisational spin, writing new tunes that mix old-world and modern influences, and displaying masterful soloing chops not only on an array of saxophones and clarinets, but also pennywhistle, slide whistle, Irish flute, kaval (a Balkan flute), and gaida (a Bulgarian bagpipe).
Paradox Trio (actually a quartet), formed by Darriau after he moved from Boston to New York in 1991, was a particularly influential group on the New York downtown scene of the '90s, and one of the first bands to give traditional ethnic music a distinctly downtown flavor. Certainly, Darriau was in the first wave of artists -- which also included trumpeter Dave Douglas, reedman Chris Speed, and guitarist Brad Shepik (a Paradox Trio member) -- to introduce Eastern European and Middle Eastern melodies, scales, and rhythms into the downtown mix. The third Paradox Trio CD on the Knitting Factory label, Source, aptly summarized the multicultural influences defining much of Darriau's recorded output; the 1999 album found the group exploring music of the late-period Ottoman Empire, where the East and West met and co-mingled, forever influencing art and culture throughout most of the 20th century. Source and the band's other Knitting Factory discs have unfortunately gone out of print, but Paradox was still going strong as of the mid-2000s, with club and festival appearances and the release of 2005's Gambit on the Enja label.
In addition to his work with Paradox Trio and Orange Then Blue, Darriau has performed in a number of other adventurous contexts, including the widely popular Klezmatics, who imbue Yiddish roots music with a contemporary flavor (and notably appear on violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman's In the Fiddler's House CD); the Celtic-influenced Whirligig; the polystylistic (of course) les Misérables Brass Band; and Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars. ~ Dave Lynch