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New Old Music? An Interview with Matt Darriau of the Paradox Trio and Ballin’ The Jack

By Brian L. Knight

Klezmer? Balkan? 1930s Swing? You name a musical style that predates the Studebaker and chances are that multi-instrumentalist Matt Darriau has taken a stab at it. Either through one of his earlier bands, the Klezmatics (Jewish music and jazz) or his present day efforts, the Paradox Trio (Balkan music and Jazz) or Ballin’ The Jack (1930s American Jazz and 1990s American Jazz), Darriau has taken what he has learned from jazz education and applied it to the music of our ancestors. Ballin’ the Jack’s Jungle and the Paradox Trio’s Source are two Darriau recordings that are available through the Knitting Factory label that not only show the talent of the participating musicians, but also the Knitting factory’s penchant to blend heritage with experimentation. The Vermont Review spoke to Matt Darriau from his home in New York City while he playing with his son Gabriel.

Vermont Review: When we first tried to arrange this interview, you were over in Europe. What were you doing over there?

Matt Darriau: I was with this guy Willie Schwarz, who is a singer/songwriter accordion player and also a tabla player. He plays Indian music. He has written all of these weird songs in the Indian style. He played with Tom Waits years ago- that is his little claim to fame. We had this tour in Europe and I was playing the utility reed part. I was playing different types of flutes, the clarinet and the saxophone.

VR: How often do you play the different flutes?

MD: I don’t really go into Indian but they were having me do it a little bit. The Kaval flute, which is a Balkan flute, is pretty elaborate. It has a formal technique. It does a lot of interesting things – overtones, it has a big range and it is chromatic so you can get all those gypsy scales. It is an end blown flute like a Nay flute.

VR: Is your type if music embraced more over in Europe?

MD: Yeah, they do in that they know it more. And we are more known over there but I don’t think they embrace it any more. The culture embraces it more, not necessarily the people. The cultural environment, the support system for the arts, embraces creative music. But when you go out to places in small towns, it is pretty amazing the people who come out in the states. In Boston and New York, people are somewhat jaded – they have seen it all. If you go to the mid-west, you would be surprised by the people who come out and are intrigued by what you are doing. They really love it. I am trying to get out into the middle states more to do that now.

VR: When you do play in the Mid –west, do you find ethnic Europeans or jazz fans coming to see you play?

MD: It is more of a creative jazz scene. We are playing in Cleveland, Ohio and that has a big Balkan/Yugoslavian community. We are playing at a cultural hall where Balkan ethnic events happen.

VR: What is your ethnic heritage?

MD: I am kind of French………I am not really Balkan. I have been involved in music since in the early 1980s in Boston. I was involved with the scene around the conservatory (Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music) when Klezmer was starting there. It was an open environment there and I was encouraged to get into it because I had an interest. I was playing a little bit for some folk dancing people in Boston.

VR: Where did your interest come from?

MD: I grew up in an open household with music and art. My parents were into international folk dancing. That was kind of a big and hip scene at universities for beatniks. They would do Israeli folk dancing……… Greek folk dancing……Yugoslavian. My parents were involved with all of that. I heard it all when I was kid. It is not like I heard it from my parents, then remembered it and then started getting back into it. I kind of got back into it separately. I started playing folk dancing in Boston and I thought "I remember this. My parents used to dance to this stuff. Right." I was also listening to and playing Irish music. Whatever world music……….traditional and native music……..African music. It was just when a lot of interest was starting to percolate in world music. We realized that there was a lot more out there and a lot more ways to organize to music than what we were shown. I couldn’t help finding this real interest for my music and my own creative interest in music.

VR: What kind of music are you listening to today?

MD: I always listening to stuff that is feeding my music. It is almost like research. In am into early swing these days, which is what we are doing with Ballin’ The Jack.

VR: I am just going to name some names. I would like to hear what you have to say about them. Fellow New Yorker, Uri Caine?

MD: Uri Caine is great……..he is really amazing. He is such a brilliant and accomplished jazz player. He has done really interesting work – he has a Jewish sound but also contemporary with sampling and electronics.

VR: Pianist Joe Zawinul?

MD: He was the original at redefining fusion. He was the first. It is interesting, I don’t think he was the first to check out the music of other cultures, but he has always had a unique sound palette that definitely has a reference to traditional music. He was definitely influential – not overtly but in the background. So was John McLaughlin that way –he used odd meters and Eastern scales. Indian music coming out the jazz context.

VR: Ornette Coleman?

MD: He led the way for the idea of a jazz musician just doing something totally unique. He organized music in a totally unique way.

VR: Roland Kirk?

MD: Great. I saw hit last gig in Indiana. He was blind and playing with one hand.

VR: Yusef Lateef?

MD: He is kind of underrated. He does great stuff. He played the Oboe and was into the Arabic stuff.

VR: Could you explain your latest effort, Ballin’ the Jack.

MD: It is a seven-piece band, which does new interpretation of early jazz from the 1930s and 1940s.

VR: Are you providing a traditional take on these interpretations or are you adding your own spice?

MD: We are adding a little edge to it but really trying to respect the original – more than lot of people would. We work with the transcriptions and the original harmonies but also finding places to elaborate.

VR: How did the Paradox Trio come about?

MD: It was about seven or eight years ago. I met Seido (Salisfoski), the percussionist who has a Macedonian/Gypsy background at a Balkan camp. Then later, I started doing trio gigs at place called the Bell Café in Soho. I met Rufus (Cappadocia), who had also discovered Balkan rhythm and pygmy music, in New York. (Editor’s Note: The readers would be interested to know that Rufus is probably one of the few musicians today who plays a "ethno-slap-funk-cello") So I was playing with Rufus and Seido and then Brad (Schoeppach) came around

VR: What is pygmy music?

MD: Have you ever heard rainforest vocal music where they have complex rhythms that intersect – interlocking rhythms called hockets. One group people are one rhythms and then another group is another rhythm. They interlock.

VR: You also worked with the Klezmatics. What is the difference between what you are doing with the Paradox Trio and what you were doing with the Klezmatics?

MD: Well, the Klezmatics is Jewish music. There is an overlap in that we are both doing new stuff with Eastern European music. There is a relationship to the Gypsy scale in both music. Klezmer music is specifically from the Yiddish speaking areas of Europe, which had its own interesting tradition with a formal technique. They didn’t use odd rhythms and complex meters. I am dealing more than Balkan traditional music.

VR: They are also seems to be a Mediterranean/North Africa influence in your music as well.

MD: Yeah. There is a flow of influence from North Africa to Arabic, modes, which segues to Turkey, which is related to the Gypsy Mode and then North Africa. That stuff is a little more far out as it has a weird tuning system.

VR: Do you attempt to find out more about the cultures that you are playing?

MD: I always want to but it is hard. I haven’t gotten over there much. I was over in Macedonia at the end of last year and I tries to study the language a little bit before going. At this point, I am trying to break more into original music that is inspired by that. I am more concerned with playing the Gaida, which is the traditional bagpipe from the area, and learning its technique.

VR: Do you find yourself redefine the word fusion these days?

MD: I have been working on that for years.

Check out more about Matt Darriau at www.knittingfactory.com.

Read more about Middle Eastern/American Jazz crossover music.

Read an interview with Dave "Fuze"Fiuczynski