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Review of 1/22/12 Brooklyn Bowl show on Live Music News and Review
The Stone Pony February 1 Review from
The Downtown 1/12/02 review from
Tricksters at Sweetwater 11/7/01 Photos from Deanne at
Jerry's Birthday Celebration: A Review of 8/1/01 from
A Review of the 6/16/01 Tribeca Blues Show from Interview with Jeff and Rob interview with Jeff on playing with Phil Lesh review of Shaking Off the Weirdness by Ray Hogan, 2/25/03 Still Tricksters at 25: A Conversation w/Jeff Mattson by Mike Greenhaus, 11/1/04 review of Shaking Off the Weirdness Anyone know Italian?
Glide Magazine 10/4/06 review of For Rex: The Black Tie Dye Ball by Kenny Bohlin

Weekender section of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise - 9/13/07

Review of 9/8/07 Zen Tricksters Acoustic Trio Show at the Waterhole, Saranac Lake, NY
I'd long heard about the Zen Tricksters, but never had the opportunity to 
see this Long Island based band live.  It was a real treat to attend the 
Trickster's Acoustic Trio show upstairs at the Waterhole in Saranac Lake.  
Band members Donna Jean Godchaux and Mookie Siegel are currently touring 
with David Nelson and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, leaving guitarists 
Jeff Mattson and Tom Circosta, and Bassist Klyph Black some free time to 
gig as an acoustic outfit. 

The results are excellent.  By the looks of it, the audience ranged from 
21 to 60+ years old, and everyone left smiling. The band promptly took the 
stage at 9 pm, and jumped right in to a rousing mix of originals and tasty 
interpretations of classic folk/rock/ bluegrass songs in the vein of the 
Grateful Dead's early 1980's acoustic album, Reckoning, or EmmyLou Harris' 
Live at the Ryman.  Along the way, they covered songs by Bob Dylan, Los Lobos, 
David Bromberg, The New Riders, Peter Rowan, Commander Cody, and of course, 
the Dead. 

Mattson handles most of the lead guitar work, with Circosta driving the rhythm.   
But far from being simply a rhythm guitarist, (and he is a very good one) 
Circosta lit up parts of nearly every song for some sparkling lead of his own.  
At times, the two guitarists' notes intertwined so completely it was hard to 
keep track of who was playing what.  Through it all, Black thumped away, at 
times powerfully, at times more discreetly, but always melodically on the 
low end.  

Without a drummer, the tight timing of the group was quite notable. Their extended 
jams fell apart and came back together magically, and years of playing and 
singing together were evidenced by flawless precision throughout the show.
The traditional Dark Hollow, with a high bluegrass harmony, a sweet rendition 
of John Dawson's Louisiana Lady, Weather Report Suite, and lastly a lively 
version of Rowan's Midnight Moonlight were all highlights of the first set.
During the intermission, the band members mingled with the crowd, talking music 
shop and signing autographs. Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (that cigarette), an old country 
staple, made famous among country-rock fans by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet 
Airmen, kicked off a high energy second set.  A folk standard, The Banks of the 
Ohio followed, much to everyone's delight.  A blues number, Nobody Knows You When 
You're Down and Out, was followed by Jack Straw, then The Thrill is Gone, a 
Darnel / Hawkins number that B.B. King is most commonly associated with.  Extended 
jams during original songs Sleepwalking and Drownin'  gave fans ample time for dancing.  
Everyone sang along with a sweet renditions of Ripple and Me & Bobby McGee; Black's 
harmonies were exquisite. 

As the Witching Hour approached, a rousing Evangeline gave way to CSN&Y's Love and 
Only Love to conclude the almost four hour show.  The Tricksters gave such an all-out 
performance that it seemed the crowd was too polite to ask for an encore. Being more 
than 25 years removed from the late night party crowd, I wondered if I'd feel at ease 
attending the Waterhole show.  The upstairs music venue was sparkling clean and nicely lit.  
The bartender kept me supplied with straight cranberry juice at a buck a glass, and cold 
drinking water was provided free of charge all night.  It was plain that everyone was 
there to listen to music and dance, which made for a very enjoyable evening.  The fifteen 
dollar ticket was more than reasonably price for a show of such quality; here's hoping 
Lazar Bear Productions will continue touring acts to Saranac Lake.  Thanks, Les

Relix Magazine, February/March 2007

For Rex: The Black Tie-Dye Ball
by Mike Greenhaus
It's one thing for a concert to produce a live album, but it's a 
whole 'nuther thing for a single show to kick-start an actual band. 
But one Rex Foundation benefit accomplished just that, rolling The 
Zen Tricksters, Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay and a number of additional 
Grateful Dead family members into a new all-star group later dubbed 
Kettle Joe's Psychedelic Swamp Revue. A year later, the Rex Foundation 
has released the meat of that performance, which also featured appearances 
from Dead deities like David Nelson, Tom Constanten, Mike Falzarano, 
Greg Anton and Rob Barraco, as a two-disc set. Mickey Hart even stops 
by at the start of the show, adding vocals and, um, cowbell to "Iko Iko" 
before handing over his reins to Zen Tricksters frontman, Jeff Mattson. 
While the album includes a number of classic rock chestnuts, including 
a touching version of the Dead's "Ripple" and Constanten's trippy take 
on the Doors' "People are Strange," For Rex: The Black Tie-Dye Ball 
truly finds its feet through enwer songs by Mattson and Barraco, resetting 
Jerry Garcia's spirit in a decidedly modern context. 

Glide Magazine, October 4, 2006

For Rex: The Black Tie-Dye Ball, The Zen Tricksters w/Special Guests
by Kenny Bohlin
Last fall a group of musicians came together for a benefit for the 
Rex Foundation (named for a Grateful Dead roadie who died tragically in 
a car accident back in 1976). The black tie event held at the concert 
hall for the New York Society for Ethical Culture featured an artist 
collective comprised of Grateful Dead members and mercenaries, but was 
primarily based around the foundation of the Zen Tricksters. The music 
created was inevitably Dead like, but what's captured here is invigoratingly 
new and fresh as a daisy. 

Familiar Dead style covers invoking audience sing-a-longs are scattered 
throughout the night (“Iko Iko,” “Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad,” 
“People are Strange”) and Dead show staples (“Music Never Stopped,” 
“Ripple”) round out the sets. But the rest of the show is a new take 
on that old formula. There's certainly more jam for your buck - 
some of it spacey, some of it bluegrass - but when the band really 
comes together, they hit on all cylinders. 

The old heads will find a pretty accurate take on the Grateful Dead 
sound with this release, instantly recognizable by someone in the know. 
For those too young to have actually seen the fat man rock, it's a 
good place to get an idea of what it was like. The magic is still 
resonating out there, ready to be plucked out and played. These guys 
are all experts at plucking it out, and that can be pretty rare 
nowadays. So rare, a majority of this one-off has morphed into a new 
touring unit entitled Kettle Joe's Psychedelic Swamp Revue. 

Relix Magazine, February/March 2006

Soundcheck: Live Reviews - compiled by Dean Budnick

New York, NY, Society for Ethical Culture, November 12 Rex Foundation Black Tie-Dye Ball
by Mike Greenhaus

  Someone once described the experience of attending a Grateful Dead concert as a
mixture between seeing a baseball game and going to church. So it's fitting that 
The Rex Foundation hosted its New York Black Tie-Dye fall fundraiser at the 
Society for Ethical Culture, a pew-filled room created to foster a spiritual sense 
of community. For patrons with deep pockets, the evening's festivities began with 
a pre-concert meet-and-greet featuring chief preacher Mickey Hart and Dead-family 
deacons like Donna Jean Godchauz-MacKay, Rob Barraco, David Nelson, Tom Constanten, 
Michael Falzarano (Hot Tuna), Greg Anton (Zero, Heart of Gold Band) and David MacKay 
(Heart of Gold Band). After a few words from Hart, the evening's activities shifted 
upstairs where The Zen Tricksters served as the house band for a guest-laden, two-set 
jamfest. Hart also provided the evening's invocation, adding vocals and cowbell to an 
all-star version of "Iko Iko," before--rather quickly--slipping into the night.
   No matter: as the evening unfolded, The Zen Tricksters proved to be the event's true 
guiding light, weaving a ministry of guests into its set, including the two-keyboardist 
attack of Constanten and former Trickster Barraco. Highlights from the Dead catalogue 
included a touching "Ripple," "The Music Never Stopped," and "Goin' Down the Road 
Feeling Bad," at which point Relix publisher and Rex honcho Steve Bernstein 
brought perennial concertgoer Dancing Will onstage. During his brief tenure in the 
Grateful Dead, Constanten's quirky, psychedellic sound remained relatively muted but, 
on this night, he fashioned himself as a slightly trippier Ray Manzarek (though his 
vocals on the Doors' "People are Strange" proved to be anything but holy). Since first 
linking up with The Zen Tricksters at the Gathering of the Vibes in August, Godchaux-MacKay 
has also meshed well with Jeff Mattson's eerily on-point Garcia interpretations. If the 
evening proved one thing it's that the church of Garcia is still alive, if indeed split 
into several denominaitons.

Good Times Magazine, Issue 898, October 5 - 18, 2004

The Zen Tricksters - An All-American Jam Band
by Dan Brown
   Since first appearing on the scene as New York's first and most well-
known jam band, The Zen Tricksters have grown to become international touring
and recording artists. October marks the 25th anniversary of the band, and to 
kick off what will be a year-long celebration, ZT will perform a show at The
Downtown on October 22.
   This celebration of a quarter century of music will find the band revisiting
their past on stage with appearances from several former members. The show will
highlight The Zen Tricksters and their music in its present form while offering
the fans a taste of what they can expect from the band as they begin the next
25 years of their career.
   The band that would become The Zen Tricksters began in 1979 as The Volunteers. 
Their live set was mostly made up of songs from the Grateful Dead, a band that
has inspired and remains an influence for founding member Jeff Mattson to this day.
   "I had gotten the bug about the Grateful Dead about the same time that I
started playing guitar," Mattson recalls. "And, as with so many Deadheads, "I had
this tunnel vision. I was obsessd, so that sort of mirrored my development as a
guitar player. Even the very first band I played in did some Grateful Dead songs."
   No matter what the climate of the club scene has been or where the trends in 
pop music have gone, The Zen Tricksters have stayed true to themselves and the
jam band style. In the early '80s, Long Island was booming with rock clubs, and
there was an ample supply of good bands to fill the demand for live music. The
lion's share of the bands were cashing in on the new wave boom and covering arena
rock anthems. The Volunteers offered an alternative and created a niche for them-
selves by appealing to the large loyal following of the Dead, as well as lovers 
of the jam band experience.
   "The Dead have always had their biggest following - even more so than in
California in some ways - in New York," Mattson reasons. "So there were always
people hungry for that."
   In 1988, a falling out between band members led to Mattson and a couple of the
Volunteers faithful, who by then were doing a mainly original music set, to
regroup as The Zen Tricksters. Mattson is the last remaining original member from
The Volunteers lineup, and is joined by Klyph Black (bass, vocals, dobro, lap steel),
Tom Circosta (guitar, vocals, piano), and Joe Ciarvella (drums).
   The Zen Tricksters relased their first full-length disc, The Holy Fool, in 1996.
The band returned to the studio to release A Love Surreal in 1999. A copy of A Love 
Surreal made it into the hands of Phil Lesh, who was moved enough by what he heard
to enlist Mattson and former ZT keyboard player Rob Barraco to be a part of his 
Phil & Friends project. Mattson remembers meeting Lesh and getting the Dead bassist's
thoughts on the Tricksters' sound.
   "He was really blown away by our ability to jam in the studio," Mattson  says.
"He claimed that the Dead were never really adept at that, They couldn't ever get to
that place in the studio, only in a live situation." After a 10-day rehearsal schedule,
Mattson and Barraco joined Lesh and his band for three dates at the Warfield Theater
in San Francisco.
   Mattson and the Tricksters play roughly 180 shows a year in North America, and the
group has also brought its  jam band show to the stages of Japan. The band has played 
on bills with everyone from Derek Trucks to Stanley Jordan, and has shared the stage 
with a list of major artists that includes Suzanne Vega, The Jerry Garcia Band and 
Jefferson Starship.
   Over the band's 25-year history, there have been numberous personnel changes. In
the years leading up to Joe Ciarvella joining the group in the Spring of 2004, the
Tricksters found themselves hard-pressed to find a drummer that fit - so Black,
Circosta and Mattson decided to work as a trio. In 2003, they released Shaking Off
The Weirdness and spent a good part of the year touring as an acoustic act.
   "People were very surprised at the fullness of the sound," Tom Circosta remembers.
"It was really something that was unique. We used to have to explain to people that
'this isn't your mother's acoustic show.' This was a jam band that could jam as well
as anybody, even though it was just two acoustic guitars and a bass. And because of that,
we got to play some of the bigger venues."
   Operating outside of the system has helped The Zen Tricksters sustain a national fan 
base without the backing of a major label. Mattson credits the success to constant touring 
and internet downloading sites.
   "We sell a lot of our CDs on the Internet, through," Mattson
says. That is the 2004 version of indie distribution. Stores are becoming less and less 
important. So anybody in the world who wants to buy The Zen Tricksters' music is only two
clicks away."
   The band allows fans to record their shows, while making live recordings available 
free of charge via the net. As to whether giving so much away might be hurting the
band's ability to sell their studio recordings, Mattson sees downloading as more of an
opportunity than a detriment.
   "If you're smart, you realize that it's doing you more good than harm," he reasons.
"For those lost dollars, you're getting new fans hearing your music and coming to your
shows. And it isn't like they aren't going to buy your CD because they have a live recording
of your show. It's more important to get your music out there. It sounds cliched, but it's 
all about the music."
   Visit the ZT online at and learn about how to get their records, 
as well as to find out where to see one of the great jam bands live.

Long Island Entertainment News, October 2004

The Zen Tricksters Celebrate their 25th Anniversary at the Downtown
by Brian Weinstein
   Back in 1979, live music was alive and thriving in several rock clubs
around Long Island. Rock fans could go to one of the many bars around the
Island and treat themselves to hearing cover bands or bands with original
material, all before the rise of MTV and "video clubs."
   One of the bands around during that era was a group of young men named
The Volunteers who played original tunes mixed with Grateful Dead covers.
Going through several personnel changes, the band had a parting of the ways
in 1989, and four of the members went on to form The Zen Tricksters, who are
preparing to celebrate their 25-year anniversary at the Downtown in Farmingdale
on Friday, October 22.
   "It's a long history," says Tricksters lead guitarist and vocalist Jeff 
Mattson, with a laugh. Mattson has been a member of the band since the beginning. 
"For the first ten years or so, we mostly just played in the New York area,
primarily on Long Island. As we got into the 90's, we started to tour and branch
out. We went through upstate New York and New England, eventually to the South,
the West Coast and ever since then, we've been touring the entire country and
Canada. A few years ago we went to Japan for a tour."
   One of the most interesting aspects of The Zen Tricksters is their revolving-
door lineup, as members of the band have joined and left at various times over 
the past 25 years.
   "People have come and gone over the years, so there's been a pretty large
group of people who have been in the band from one point to another," said
Mattson. "In a way, that's been a really interesting thing. The band's aesthetic
has stayed the same. Our playing music is based on a lot of collective improvi-
sation and we've kept that consistent. But when you bring a new person into the
band, and they have that freedom [to improvise], it's going to influence the sound
of the band," said Mattson. "The sound has changed and evolved over the years.
It can be a set-back, sometimes it's an improvement."
   Another factor that The Zen Tricksters have had to deal with over the past 25
years is their reputation as a "Grateful Dead cover band," despite the fact that
the band has played original material from day one.
   "It's been a double-edged sword because on one hand you have people coming to
our shows who have never seen us and they come back because of how well [we play]"
said Mattson. "But by the same token, in the music industry, as far as getting a
major record contract or playing certain venues, there's been a certain backlash
where people think we're just a Grateful Dead cover band."
   Despite the backlash, Mattson said The Zen Tricksters will definitely continue
to hold on to their Grateful Dead roots.
   "We'll always play Dead songs because they're great songs," said Mattson.
"They need to be played."
   Mattson and the rest of the current Tricksters are sure to get some help playing
these tunes at The Downtown come October 22. The large number of current and former
Tricksters may be quite an advantage for the band and fans alike. Mattson said he's 
looking forward to seeing old friends at The Downtown show and can't wait to go all
out in true Zen Tricksters fashion.
   There's no opening acts, so it's going to be us all night," said Mattson. "There's
going to be plenty, plenty, plenty Zen Tricksters music. And we're going to have a 
lot of alumni come down, sitting in, playing songs we haven't played in years, seeing
old faces. It's going to be a real celebration of our history."

Relix Magazine, April/May 2004

An Interview with Jeff Mattson of The Zen Tricksters
by Benjamin Bruce
BB: What's the current lineup?
JM: "It's me on lead guitar, Klyph Black on bass and Tom Circosta on guitar and piano. We are in the process of auditioning a new permanent drummer."
BB: How long have the Tricksters been around?
JM: "We started out as the Volunteers, in 1979, so in October this year it will be 25 years."
BB: Where did you get the name Zen Tricksters?
JM: "The art of playing this type of improvisational music is very much a Zen state of consciousness, at its best. The Tricksters, we don't take ourselves too seriously. We like to have fun, and it's also a nod to the Merry Pranksters, who were a big influence."
BB: You have a unique perspective. What changes have you watched occur within the scene?
JM: "When we started out, jamming was a dirty word. The three-minute song was it and there were no guitar solos at all. We've seen it grow up, it's been a wonderful kind of renaissance. You have everything from the funk jambands to the bluegrass-y jambands and the techno-oriented ones and that's great. All born out of that love for the extended musical journey and exploration."
BB: Are you looking to release another album of original music [previous releases include The Holy Fool, A Love Surreal, and Shaking Off the Weirdness]?
JM: "Absolutely. We're focused on finding a new permanent drummer, taking this very slowly and seriously to make sure we get the right person. We already have new material that we're playing and working out. We'll get them up to speed, then have the whole spring and summer to get out there and do a lot of playing. We can shoot for recording an album in the fall."

Revolving Door Aug/Sept 2003 Issue #60

by Stu Fox

Guitarists Jeff Mattson and Tom Circosta join bassist and guitarist Klyph Black in churning out some gorgeous acoustic tapestries on their latest CD. The album roars out of the gate with a stone killer opening track, "Talk of the Town," and the percolating vibrations of this groove-infested rocker are magnified by Buddy Cage's animated pedal steel guitar and former band mate Rob Barraco's twisting piano melodies. Jason Crosby's sparkling fiddle work highlights the intricate instrumental progressions of "Light of Life" and the band lays into some country rock rhythms during "All Night Long Blues." Black handles the vocal chores on "Waiting for a Sign" and his introspective lyrics cast a sweeping vibe over the imposing ballad. The musicians stretch out into rocking jams on "Sleepwalking" and fire into some tantalizing guitar interplay during the bluesy "Last Ten Years." Barraco helps expand the slow rolling cadences of "The One," and the trio cooks up a bouncy 1970's feeling during the country rocker "No One Said It'd Be Easy." The Tricksters push out into their most adventurous sound waves with the experimental excursions of "High Horse" and the album concludes with a short instrumental number called "The Dean Street Mess Around." This CD unveils a musical slice of the Zen Tricksters that many people haven't heard before. The electricity of their psychedelic sound waves are somewhat tempered by the acoustic format, but the lysergic animation that radiates through "High Horse" is as powerful as any amplified flashes they could generate by plugging in their instruments. The band heats up plenty of righteous grooves on the album and the intricate layering of acoustic guitars patterns on "Talk of the Town," and "Last Ten Years" are highly intoxicating pieces of work.

Seven Days July 9-16, 2003 Vol. 8 No. 46
Burlington, VT

by Ethan Covey

The Zen Tricksters are one of New England's most accomplished jam bands. A quarter-century into their career - that's half a decade longer than Phish, dudes - the New York group has settled into a position at the top of the groove crop with its own unique sound. That said, the Tricksters have always dealt with a barrage of comparisons to the Grateful Dead; hell, they started as a Dead cover band. But influences aside, the band's homages are far less blatant and embarrassing than those of most meandering, patchouli-soaked pickers. With tunes that spin a summery mix of sweet harmonies, plucked acoustic guitars, fiddles and vaguely psychedelic lyrics, the band sticks close to the folky side of music. But the trio also has a clear game plan that does not simply bow to traditional jam clichés. Instead of bastardizing the blues or getting lost in pointless, dead-end soloing, the Tricksters stick to a lighthearted Americana that would surely earn Jerry's stamp of approval. Shaking Off the Weirdness, the Tricksters' latest recording, is a collection of feel-good folk, subtle country twang and light-handed blues improv. The 10 original tunes have a timeless quality that makes them sound like a lost recording of a Woodstock pow-wow as much as a current collection from a band of retro-grooving rockers. Opener “Talk of the Town” is a gritty blues stomp with blistering barrelhouse piano. The instrumental “Light of Life” begins with a bouncy acoustic guitar lick that sounds frighteningly like standard soul-baring singer-songwriter fare, but it is saved by a flurry of nifty fiddle licks. “No One Said It'd Be Easy” is a shuffling folk-pop cut with tight, three-part harmonies and a hummable chorus. Elsewhere, the Tricksters stick to the rootsy psych-folk that they have mastered. Rarely does the band try anything new, and the lyrics occasionally dissolve into hokey hippiedom, but the songs in general are impressive - it's refreshing to hear a band so confident in its output. Though Shaking Off the Weirdness is not without its low points, the album should be required listening for any jam-god wannabe.

Dirty Linen Issue #107 August/September 2003

by Dan Willging

The third album from Long Island's Zen Tricksters shows that they are holding up their end of the jamband scene just fine, thank you. In their third decade of performing, ZT are now a mere trio, yet devoid of the typical sparse trio-type sound. Rather, with special guests steel guitarist Buddy Cage (New Riders of the Purple Sage), alumnus pianist Rob Barraco (Phil Lesh), and fiddler Jason Crosby (Oteil & the Peacemakers), ZT recall the frenzied acoustic spirit of Hot Tuna and the improv personality of the Dead. In doing so, ZT keep it unplugged, exhibiting a keen freshness that makes them their own entity. Guitarist Jeff Mattson drives with well- articulated fingerpicking, while the jams with Barraco weave and swirl about like tempest-tossed atmospheric bodies dancing together. Whether it's the stomp-down "Talk of the Town," the bluesy shuffle "Last Ten Years," or the early jazz-inspired "The Dean Street Mess Around," there's no shortage of shifting textures. The Men from Zen are all about it.

Sing Out! Vol. 47 #2 Summer 2003

Jam bands like the Zen Tricksters seem to go against the musical grain. Whereas most bands keep their songs in the three-to-four minute range, the Tricksters don't mind expanding the structure to seven, eight, or even nine minutes. And most bands reserve a spot for a brief guitar solo, but the Tricksters save lots of time for everybody in the band to solo. Lyrically, the Tricksters, like the Grateful Dead, shun the realistic in search of something a bit less tangible, a bit more esoteric. The Tricksters, it seems, break the majority of American rock 'n' roll rules, and for reasons best explained by a trained sociologist, their fans love them all the more for it. While Jeff Mattson, Klyph Black, and Tom Circosta began as a Dead copy band a long, long time ago, Shaking Off the Weirdness never makes you want to call them “copy cats.” Their acoustic arrangements are much more cohesive, and the jams on pieces like “Sleepwalking” never meander off into space. A number of guests also bolster the band's jam-quotient, as when fiddler Jason Crosby joins on the ethereal “Light of Life.” Like a number of other practitioners of the art known as “jam band,” all of the Tricksters write, which is a great way of guaranteeing variety. Fans will be grateful for Shaking Off the Weirdness, and thankful that even though the Zen Tricksters promote a number of un-American values - doing your own thing, working when you feel like it, and living on the road - they have so far escaped the Justice Department's net.-- RL

Skratch Magazine #86 August, 2003

by Tom "Tearaway" Schulte

SHAKING OFF THE WEIRDNESS is a solid album from The Zen Tricksters. Special guests on the album include Buddy Cage (New Riders of the Purple Sage, Phil Lesh & Friends) and Jason Crosby (Susan Tedeschi), both ex-Zen Tricksters. The group began nearly a quarter-century ago and now delivers its bluesy rock with a style and grace that comes from experience and maturity. Fans of Little Feat, Phish, The Grateful Dead, and Blues Traveler will take to this disc.

All Music Guide May 20, 2003

by Jesse Jarnow

Much of the Zen Tricksters' vocabulary - both musical and literal - is drawn from the musical universe of the Grateful Dead. Considering the fact that the Tricksters have spent the better part of the last 20 years as one of the country's premier Dead cover bands, that's not a surprise. What is surprising, however, is how effective their original material it is. Sure, much of the band's sound is firmly in the mode of their main influence, but it is delightfully free of rhythmic lumber of the Dead. Indeed, the Tricksters seem to have taken the lessons of the Dead's best periods of the late '60s and early '70s and stripped them down. "The One" sounds like a jazzier version of a Jerry Garcia ballad from American Beauty, while "Talk of the Town" hones in on jazzier elements. The band's jamming is affable and comfortable, sticking mostly to acoustic sounds. Refreshingly, the Tricksters pull it off without sounding like a tribute act.

Sound Waves Magazine Volume 13, #8

by Dave Bulbeck

Okay, this is the long awaited acoustic CD from the Tricksters trio - Jeff Matson, Klyph Black, Tom Circosta. Overall this is a brilliant CD. It opens with "Talk Of The Town". This has a blues / boogie rhythm, Buddy Cage contributing pedal steel and Rob Barraco on piano. The song has great pace and excellent bass. Cage's pedal steel enhances the tune greatly. There is slide guitar in there and excellent vocals. There is some nice picking in the middle and the whole tune segues into a freeform instrumental with psych fuzz guitar which reminds me of some of the sounds on "Baron Von Tolbooth". This becomes a long meandering jam. 'My generosities over when my pockets are clean' - nice opener. This is followed by "Light Of Life" by Klyph. This has a String Cheese sound with mountain / country feel. Some great fiddle playing by Jason Crosby takes this tune to new heights while the rhythm is kept going with bouncing bass and clean guitar picking. "All Night Long Blues" follows - a traditional sounding tune. Nice dobro slide and picking - brought a big smile to my face. Wonderful. "Waiting For A Sign" is a nice gentle tune with great vocals and picking. Jason Crosby appears again, this time on baritone fiddle, adding a new dimension of flowing counterpoint backing the guitars. '..leave that world behind you now - caught inside that spinning wheel, waiting for a change…' "Sleepwalking" is an upbeat song from Jeff Matson. Rob Barraco, on piano, adds a filigree backing. The vocals are enhanced by the inclusion of Wendy Lanter ane (sic) song is so sweet. '…have I slept through the rising of the sun? I'm sleepwalking again'. The tune builds from the vocals as guitar and piano take the lead for the bridge then peaks and falls back for the end of the lyrics. Another nice one! "Last Ten Years" is a plodding, gentle tune. It's a kind of 'road' song - very pleasant. Here we have Lil' Cliff Bernard on harp giving this song a great blues sound. "The One" is a nice, simple tune with narrative lyrics - very philosophical! '…I can see so clear that you were the one' - thanks Jeff. With addition of Barraco piano this tune reminds me of "Ripple" and "China Doll" by The Dead. "No One Said It Would Be Easy" is a gutsy, guitar orientated tune with close harmonies. There is a delicate acoustic guitar break. It's a song about the addiction of love and the passing of time. "High Horse" is next. I have listened to this many times and still find new meanings. Jeff has really worked at these lyrics. This is a story of sadness and fear as a man seeks the love of a lady. But, as she says to him, 'this crown you wear is more cross than you can bear' This is a complex, interesting song. It is kept going with steady, rhythmic percussion while guitars dance in the instrumental break. The pace slows down for the final refrain - '..a statue of a hero keeps vigil in the square - no one knows who put it there - but people love a fountain and birds live in its hair'. I need to listen to this some more! The final track on the CD is a beautiful ragtime tune called "The Dean Street Mess Around". Jason Crosby, Rob Barraco and Cliff Bernard take fiddle, piano and blues harp solos throughout. There are fine guitar breaks too. This is a superb tune to end the CD. I could just imagine the Tricksters sitting on the back porch, watching the sun go down, with a bottle of Jack Daniels and I would be there - for sure! This is a wonderful acoustic CD. I have the other two CDs and have heard lots of electric shows over the years + recent acoustic shows. This has to be the Zen Tricksters' finest achievement to date.

Relix April-May, 2003 Volume 30 #2

by Mick Skidmore

The Tricksters remain one of the most enduring and dependable jambands on the scene. Over two decades they've put their own improvisational twist on the music of the Dead and '60s psychedelia as well as simultaneously developing a cache of original material. This latest album shows why they've lasted. An exciting acoustic exploration with some dazzling instrumental work, the intricate instrumental "Light of Life" has guest Jason Crosby on fiddle while "Talk of the Town" is a gutsy country rocker with a classic groove. Like many of the songs, it shows the band's ability at fusing the old and the new. The track also features sweet steel from New Riders' steel ace Buddy Cage. There's confidence and maturity to this album; it's one they should be proud of and a delight to hear.

John Dwork - author of Deadhead's Taping Compendium, former publisher of Dupree's Diamond News, concert promoter Peak Experience Productions, co-founder of the Gathering of the Vibes

I was delighted to find the new album waiting for me. Congratulations! VERY well done..I think it’s your best to date. The mix is good, the vocals clear, the words are substantive and fun, the playing is sharp (though I still would love to see you release a live, electric version of Light of Life some day).

WCUW 91.3 Grateful Radio, Worcester, MA

hosted by George Jodaitis

Zen Tricksters- Shaking off the Weirdness I think this is the best release overall from the Trickster's showcasing their acoustic talents. CD features their strong playing and good songwriting skills, with guest musicians Jason Crosby adding some nice fiddle work on "Light of Life" and Buddy Cage's pedal steel on "Talk of the Town" the strongest track on the CD. It has a nice consistent feel and flow to it and the extended pieces "High Horse" and "Talk of the Town" stretch out nicely and highlight the bands abilities. "All Night Long Blues" is another standout and "Dean Street Mess Around" is a great cut to end with, reminiscent of a Jorma-style acoustic blues number. Its also great to hear Rob sitting in with his former bandmates and adding his hand throughout this release. I have been playing it, infact I already had a copy before you sent one.

Outsight Communications, March, 2003 edition, Detroit, MI

The Zen Tricksters
Shaking Off the Weirdness Zebra Tango

Shaking off the Weirdness is a solid album from The Zen Tricksters. Special guests on the album include Buddy Cage (New Riders of the Purple Sage, Phil Lesh & Friends) and Jason Crosby (Susan Tedeschi), both ex-Zen Tricksters. The group began nearly a quarter-century ago and now delivers its bluesy rock with a style and grace that comes from experience and maturity. Fans of Little Feat and Phish, Grateful Dead and Blues Traveler will take to this disc. (EDITOR'S NOTE: The author mistakenly has Buddy Cage as both a former ZT and member of Phil Lesh & Friends. He meant, of course, Rob Barraco, and kind of combined those two.)

The Weekender, January 29, 2003. Wilkes-Barre, PA

'Shaking Off the Weirdness' Zen Tricksters
by Kevin Krieger

If you're not familiar with the Zen Tricksters, then you haven't been paying attention to the music scene around Northeastern PA. Entering their 24th year, the band continues to conjure up tasty and playful melodies wrapped around some down home licks, and regularly brings their talents to local clubs. Essentially a trio, (Jeff Mattson on guitar and vocals, Klyph Black on bass and vocals, and Tom Circosta on guitar and vocals) their latest Zebra Tango Records release "Shaking Off the Weirdness," brings a roundtable of guests to the affair. The tracks are fleshed out with piano, fiddle, pedal steel, percussion, and blues harp. Songwriting chores are pretty much evenly distributed among the three players, but somehow the style comes through consistently. It's nice to see a triad of musical minds all going in the same direction for once. Breaking the Tricksters' music down, one can find elements of Cajun, bluegrass, jazz, country, rock and the essential jam-band vibe. The group is better known for their interpretations of Grateful Dead songs, but over their long career, they've developed a sound of their own, not to mention a dedicated following. While the Dead influence is obviously the guiding force, the songs on "Weirdness" gain more from Garcia/Grisman collaborations than the full GD band. Songs like "Talk of the Town" and "Sleepwalking" are polished to perfection and at the same time, given room to expand. The Tricksters don't record "ditties." They delve into the rhythms and find new melody lines among the notes. The instrumental "Light of Life" and the closing effort, "The Dean Street Mess Around" sound like part of the soundtrack to any Saturday night episode of Garrison Keillor's "Lake Wobegone." There's an easy, relaxed feeling that invites you in to get comfortable and just listen. With three vocalists in the band, there's no shortage of harmonies. "Waiting for a Sign" is especially rife with the mesh of voices. No one voice stands out, but on several tracks ("Sleepwalking," "The One") Mattson's voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackson Browne. The album's centerpiece comes with the nearly 10-minute "High Horse." The song is an acoustic guitar workout that harkens back to the moody strains of Dire Straits or Buffalo Springfield. The interplay between the instruments will hold your attention through the entire track. Overall, this is not music for every taste. But without being a confirmed Deadhead, there's still something to enjoy. Support the local scnene - check out the Tricksters and catch them live on their next visit. It's time well spent.

Bass Player Magazine, March 2003

BP Recommends

The Zen Tricksters Shaking Off the Weirdness (Zebra Tango): This heartfelt set of acoustic music from these jam-band stalwarts boasts an impressive roster of talented guest artists. Versatile bassist Klyph Black also contributes guitar, vocals, and even Dobro on the rollicking "All Night Long Blues." (JH)

Centre Daily Times, 2/14/03. State College, PA

CD Review: 'Shaking Off' Weirdly Resembles the Dead by Cole Hons

Details: The Grateful Dead may be history, but, thanks to endlessly
touring bands like The Zen Tricksters, the Dead's groovy, mellow
spirit is alive and kicking.

The Zen Tricksters have been at it for 24 years now, and they've got 
the hippy-shake boogie down pat. This New York trio has it all- -
the rootsy, soft spoken songs, the noodling guitars, the propensity
for free-form jams and the mediocre vocals arranged in tight harmony.
They obviously love playing music, and being free with it, and
venturing into that whole jazzy rock exploration thing, and they do it

Also like the Dead, The Zen Tricksters show a great love and mastery
of several wholly American musical forms, many of which are showcased
on their newest release, "Shaking Off the Weirdness." The sounds on
this largely acoustic record range from bluesy swamp boogie to country 
twang to psychedelic rock to Dixieland swing. The band deftly maneuvers
through all of this sonic territory with confidence and skill, though
in a fairly predictable way.

But these guys aren't completely dated. On the instrumental track
"Light of Life," featuring guest musician Jason Crosby on fiddle, The
Tricksters give a musical nod to that new generation hippy icon Dave
Matthews, exploring weird time signatures and stop-start rhythms
you'd never have heard in the '60s or '70s. And to be fair, the
sheer musicality of many performances on this record creates a classic,
timeless quality that transcends any question of stylistic relevance.

The weakest aspect of this record is the blandness of the lyrics.
They're sung very ernestly, and I'm sure that when they're addressed
to a crowd full of gyrating dudes and dudettes on the dance floor of a
smoky bar, they sound just fine. But worn out cliches like "some things
never change" and "it's funny how time slips away" are hard to
swallow on record.

Maybe the Tricksters should do what the Dead did and hook up with
a lyric writer. After all, it was Robert Hunter's words that made
Jerry Garcia and Co. more than just a band of wildly experimental
psychedelic roots-rockers. His lyrics transformed the band into the
premier troubadour poets of their time and helped them to become
symbols of an entire sibculture of America. I think he's still alive,
actually. Maybe they ought to look him up.

Meanwhile, I'm sure they'll keep on truckin'.

Song Reviews from Shaking Off the Weirdness

by Jen Devincenzo, Associate Producer,, January 7, 2003

Talk of the Town - the most positive song I've heard since Night of a Thousand Stars. Light of Life - I listened to Light of Life while the sun was pouring in through my window but I think you could get the same effects that I got while listening to this instrumental on a rainy cold night. Really beautiful composition.(sort of reminded me of dancing in the sun somewhere like angels camp.) All Night Long Blues - this is definitely the one that I found myself singing along with by the end. Kicking work by Klyph on the dobro!! Waiting for a Sign - Positively the most touching song imho. The violin I think can sometimes mimic the soul so often and I think Jason Crosby really nailed it here. Sleepwalking - I think that this was lyrically my favorite song on the album. Well, gather ye rosebuds while ye may / For you may nevermore stand this way / In this garden among the vines that climb into the sky... that's what got me. The bridge is a beaut too! Last Ten Years - I like the bluesy feel! The One - the harmonies on this are so gripping and seemingly effortless. No One Said It'd be Easy - Beautiful guitar solo!!!! High Horse - I loved this one. It's loaded with imagery! While it has a higher level of intimacy, it reminds me of storytelling like Crosby's Cowboy Movie..and the banjo and guitar exchanges are wildly beautiful. Dean Street Mess Around - Sets my head in a swirly late night rag timey joint - a little sawdust on the floor...maybe a barmaid with her hair in a bun and an apron on shuffling around taking the last call while an old couple swirls around on the wooden floor. I thought Rob's piano was particularly wonderful...and the way that the instruments just seem to communicate and converse with one another on an uninterrupted fluid plane.

Good Times Magazine Issue 840, July 16-29, 2002

6/1/02 Zen Tricksters at The Stephen Talkhouse by "Blue" Lou Margiore

ening for Richie Havens was the unequivocal Zen Tricksters. For over 20 years this band of gypsies has been strumming along, turning heads, making friends and creating a following that musicians can only dream and fantasize about. Lead guitarist Jeff Mattson and bass player Klyph Black, respectively, swap vocals and are the veritable backbone of this truly amazing crew. When's the last time you heard a band that played such a broad array of covers like "Shakedown Street," "Expressway to Your Heart," and "On a Night Like This" with the fervor and fire of the original artists? If you call yourself a music lover and have not witnessed these boys you are, for sure, ripping yourself off.

July 10, 2002

The Gathering of the Vibes, Mariaville, NY 7/4-7/02 by Dan Alford

Entire Review
Exerpts of the Tricksters Review:

For the 2002 Gathering, festival organizers Terrapin Presents changed the venue to Mariaville, NY home to the Harley Davidson Reunion, Camp Creek and last August’s Summit festival, and in doing so cut the crowds in half. They also added a day to include Independence Day, and brought in the powerhouse quintet Phil Lesh and Friends, the band playing two full sets on both Friday and Saturday nights. Other acts included a number of old friends of the Tribe, such as The Zen Tricksters, Strangefolk, Reid Genauer (formerly of Strangefolk), Aaron Katz Band (of Percy Hill), Deep Banana Blackout and Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, which was inaugurated at GOTV 2000. Of course, two members of what is widely known as the Phil Lesh Quintet are also Vibes alumni, Rob Barraco having played for many years as a Zen Trickster, and Warren Haynes having played both a solo acoustic set and with Gov’t Mule. Also on the docket were Soulive (third year) and SKB, both of whose sets were rained out last year. Is it clear yet? The Gathering of the Vibes is about family. Thursday 7/4: Early in the day perennial Gathering favorites The Zen Tricksters really started the festival with an excellent set that drew in a large crowd of those not caught in traffic and showed off their musical range. Opening with the instrumental Light of Life > Just Another Storm, the set included tightly wrought compositions as well as lengthy cover jams, including Here Comes Sunshine and GDTRFB. To close an amazing, heartfelt Wharf Rat that snuck up from behind led into a crowd pleasing Summertime Blues, followed by Scarlet Begonias back into a vicious closing of Light of Life. By the end, it was clear that the vibe was just right.

December 14, 2001 Milestones

A Review by Jed Metzger from Jan/Feb 2002 Revolving Door #43

A quick change brought the Zen Tricksters to the stage. The volume went up and the dancing got hotter. They took the stage jamming into an uptempo original tune (ed. note: it was Arise) into a great version of Iko Iko. The place was sweaty and they played until close without a break mixing strong original material with classic Dead. This is a band that likes to jam, it is their strength and the Scarlet/Fire was a prime example. The guys, like the Dead, are an ugly band to look at but they put the tunes out there with energy. Tight and danceable, always a good time no matter what the weather, they make their own sunshine.

7/1/01 Words from the Philzone

excerpt from upcoming issue of Downbeat Magazine

Downbeat: How did Rob Barraco come to be a part of the band, and what does he bring to the mix? Phil: In 1999, I wanted to get a band together for some gigs at the Warfield. So I was looking for some musicians, and someone gave me a Zen Tricksters album, and I really enjoyed their music. I thought their tunes were beautifully constructed. I especially like Jeff (the guitar player) and Rob. Rob knows the Grateful Dead music better than I do. I've actually had to ask him about details that I had forgotten about some of the older songs. He brings a kind of jazzier background to the mix. I really wanted that because I wanted a keyboardist who could do tunes that weren't songs, per se, but rather vehicles for improvisation.

4.20.01 Bowery Ballroom. New York, NY

Show Review by Donna, Gypsy Bob, Marissa, and Bonnie

Any 4/20 show is bound to raise magical expectations. On this most auspicious of dates, the Zen Tricksters provided an eager crowd with every nuance that their name implies. A rich and full three-set performance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City ranged from lingering sensations of crystalline clarity to moments of joyful affirmation as well as playful surprises. In a neighborhood that's clearly seen better days, this venue offers a bright musical beacon. You enter from street level and descend to a lounge that features a substantial bar, restrooms, and merch concession. A decent feed from the soundboard is patched through, so if you wish to remain seated with plenty of breathing room, you can still enjoy the on-stage performance. Upstairs awaits the main concert space, with its unobstructed sightlines and delicious acoustics. No tables or chairs inhibit your free movement-there's just a bar and plenty of room to boogie. Further upstairs, a balcony wraps around the dance floor, accommodating a soundboard, bar, a smattering of tables and chairs, and a pair of alcoves with sofas. The variety of options guarantees that no matter where your head is at, you'll find a comfortable space to hang. In a city with all too many overcrowded and undersized venues, it's no wonder that the Bowery Ballroom garnered raves in a recent City Guide Internet survey. In the course of their two decades as a band, the Zen Tricksters have acquired a well-deserved following of devoted fans. Under the committed leadership of their remarkably gifted guitarist, Jeff Mattson, the band has emerged as a formidable musical force. Mattson's skills as a singer and songwriter, abetted by the prowess of his bandmates, elevate these troubadours from the simplistic dimension of Grateful-Dead- tribute-band into another animal altogether-something powerful and vital and altogether vibrant. Their full-tilt renditions of the beloved anthems excite an affectionate chorus of WOO-HOOs from the audience, and their inspired original songs offer a perfect transition between the nostalgia of happy times past and the living, breathing promise of the present. A virtually palpable wave of anticipation surged through the crowd as the Tricksters took the stage for the first of three incredible sets. Jeff Mattson and rhythm guitarist Tom Circosta picked up their acoustic axes, with sensitive and intuitive accompaniment from the rhythm section, Klyph Black on bass and Dave Diamond at the skins. In addition to able assistance from guest keyboardist Pete Levin, this special occasion elicited an always-welcome appearance by Tom (Banjo) Hanway. An exhilarating "Iko-Iko" set the tone for a fun-filled set. The next two selections--"Mother Found A Gun", an old Zen original that has evolved into a crowd-pleasing classic, and "The Race Is On", an old-time standard rendered in an absolutely rockin' rendition--were followed by a reverent version of "Dire Wolf." If you're a veteran of Trickster shows, you're acquainted with their seamless segues between original material and all your familiar favorites. "Where You Want to Be," a moving tune written by the amazingly versatile Dave Diamond, was followed by one of the most spiritual renditions of "Sitting in Limbo" I've ever heard. The song was enhanced by Wendy Lanter on vocals. Surprise guest musicians frequently materialize at Zen Trickster shows, and this event was no exception. Accompanying the Zens on the next three tunes were Mike Falzarano (Hot Tuna) on guitar and vocals, Tom Hanway on banjo, Kerry Kearny on dobro, and Charlie Wolf on blues harp. Mike delivered a raw and edgy vocal on "Big Railroad Blues," during which the interplay between musicians was remarkable. Trading solos, pickin' and grinnin' and having a grand old time, this assemblage of talent was the fertile foundation for Klyph's "Down the Road," a rocking blues number delivered in Mr. Black's inimitable vocal style. The masterful Tom Circosta followed up with a soulful rendition of "Me & Bobby McGee" that left the crowd awestruck. The special guests bid fare-thee-well, leaving the Zens to reach the pinnacle with "Box of Rain," followed by "The Maker," and "Arise." It doesn't get any better than this. The second set was everything the discerning fan could wish for. A white-hot "The Music Never Stopped" drove the crowd into a frenzy and set the stage for an explosive "Eyes of the World." Even the most adamant Dead Head purist would have been stunned by this version. True to the roots, it transcended the original with all the characteristic verve that the Zen Tricksters bring to their interpretations of the classics. I'm going to be 51 in July-I've seen it all, and it was NEVER as good as this! The band segued into "Goin' Down Slow", a Mattson original that echoes the best moods from "Riders on the Storm" and "Morning Dew." Its melody is haunting and captivating, and it guides you from the surreal into a "Viola Lee"-style jam that leaves you utterly breathless. The set culminated with a taste of feedback that led into a "Scarlet/Fire" that simply made all your dreams come true. Any hopes you may have cherished regarding a Great Night Out were realized then and there. The third set kicked off long after most of The City That Never Sleeps had packed it in. An experimental atmosphere prevailed as the band launched into a repertoire novelty, the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together," rendered irresistible by a hot and tight jam. Its successor, "Unbroken Chain," provided a proving ground for the vocal talents of bassist Klyph Black. The melody's demands can destroy the unworthy, but Black's stalwart rendition more than justified the dare, as did a spirited rendition of "Alligator," which emanated a raw psychedelic energy. At 2:55 AM, the show came to a blissful conclusion with Dave Diamond's jazzy, edgy original, "Comin' Back to You." If you're into jam band music, do yourself a favor and come out to see this band. If you're a refugee from the extended family, welcome home! It's not like it used to be--it's new and evolving and better than ever. Climb on board and enjoy the ride-we're waiting for you! See you there!

Feb.-April, 2001, Geoff Wilbur's Renegade

Review of A Love Surreal by Pam West

Imagine if the Grateful Dead and Phish formed a partnership with the late John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and you might gain some insight into the music of this innovative band. Their mix of exploratory improvisation blended with rock, blues and folk elements takes the term "jam band" to new heights. However, unlike many of this ilk, these clever troubadours remain cognizant of the importance of song structure, melody and content. As "out there" as they may get at times, they never lose sight of their audience and service to the song. Many of the album's ten tracks deal with varying degrees of spiritual and personal growth, enlightenment and reflection. The music, in turn, embraces those concepts like a well worn glove. For these searching for the "road less travelled" there are many treasures to be found within the music of the Zen Tricksters.

Tricksters Light Up The Iron Horse March 29, 2001 The Iron Horse, Northampton, MA

A review by David Siegel, Massachusetts Collegian Staff

Last Thursday night, the Zen Tricksters brought their jams to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton. To a decent crowd for a Thursday night, this well traveled six-piece jamband played an almost two and a half hour set. The Zen Tricksters bring to their setlists a superb mix of well orchestrated jammed out originals with mostly Grateful Dead covers, played to perfection. On this night, we were treated to a total of six Dead songs and a rare Bob Dylan cover. The set began with a song called "Never Say Die," which demonstrated the band's ability to meld a tight, focused song into a long streaming jam. This song gracefully transformed into "Meow Man," a jazzier tune that showcases Jeff Mattson's smooth guitar soloing. Although Mattson did the majority of the soloing on this night, he was complemented brilliantly by Klyph Black on a thumping bass, Dave Diamond on drums and vocals, Jason Crosby on keys and a killer electric fiddle and last, but not least, Tom Circosta on rhythm guitar and backup vocals. Next up was the first cover of the night, Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie," played to a tee with great three-part harmonies throughout the choruses. "Sweet Marie" led into a sweet triplicate of Dead songs. Getting the crowd jamming with a solid "Eyes of the World," with Mattson demonstrating his very "Jerry-esque" voice, the Tricksters segued into "Drowin'," and finally into a frenzied "Throwing Stones" with the crowd joining in for portions of the chorus. The Zen Tricksters formed in 1979, as a combination of two Grateful Dead cover bands, the Volunteers and Timberwolf both out of New York City. For over twenty years, they have been traveling, the majority of the time in the Northeast, as well as recording four original albums in studio. They have gained the reputation of being one of the nation's leading Dead cover bands alongside the likes of Shakedown Street and Dark Star Orchestra. In 1999, guitarist Jeff Mattson had the opportunity of a lifetime as he was asked to play with Phil Lesh and Friends at San Francisco's famed Warfield Theater. The band's set progressed almost effortlessly with a few more originals before hitting a climax with a concrete rendition of "Playing in the Band," with an extended train wrecking jam culminating with a nice transition into a great original* named "Forever Young," with yet another long graceful guitar solo by Mattson. The set was ended with a sweet "Viola Lee Blues," bringing the crowd down another jaw-dropping transition back into the chorus after an extended jam. For their first encore, the band returned onstage for a slow "Mr. Soul" before finally satisfying the crowd with the well-requested "Bird Song," another well-loved Dead song. Venturing off of the UMass campus on this wet and dreary night, I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard throughout the night. Their excellent showmanship and awareness of each other made for a tremendous performance. They plan on heading down South after this short stint in the Bay State, but they promise they will be back for a series of festivals throughout the summer. Be sure to catch them! *Zen Trickster note: While we were extremely flattered by Mr. Siegel crediting us with "Forever Young," we were obliged to point out to him that it was actually Bob Dylan's orginal and not ours.

January 4, 2001, The Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA

A Fan Review by Grady from REVOLVING DOOR #33, March, 2001

I saw the Zen Tricksters Thursday night, January 4th, at the small, cozy Trocadero in Philadelphia, PA. Sick is the most appropriate word to describe this show's complete aesthetic value. It was one of the best, most spiritually uplifting experiences I have ever had. The music was phenominal, there were four attractive girls dancing around me the whole night (they were drunk, too), and the vibe was killer. There were maybe only a hundred fans in attendance by the time the Tricksters left the stage. The Ally, a slightly inexperienced-sounding "out-there" band, opened and there were about twice the amount of fans present when they were playing than when the Tricksters exited. I didn't really dance at all for the Ally because, one, I couldn't get into them--there wasn't much of a groove, just a deep, loud, constant bass that one felt as opposed to heard, and two, I was saving my energy for the Tricksters. I wasn't expecting the Tricksters to put on such a sick show, but they came out and blew me and the crowd away with their insane jamming. They opened with one of their originals called Arise, which segued into the sick opening licks of Samson and Delilah. Arise was great, as was Samson. Ramble on Rose came next, followed by another original, In A World Of..., both played well. Easy Wind followed and was an easy highlight of the show. It was just amazing. It got my emotional juices flowing big time and got the crowd in the groove that the Dead always provided. Next came another ZT original, Warm Heart, which segued into a jam, then into Terrapin Station which was played note for note perfectly, and played with heart, soul, and enthusiasm. The chorus lines of Terrapin!! And Terrapin Station!! and Inspiration!! were sung beautifully by their lead man, Jeff Mattson. He looks like a middle-aged Jerry and sure plays like a fresh, young one. Terrapin segues into another awesome Jam, then right into a rockin' Throwing Stones, then into a hot ZT original, Meow Man. Next, a devilishly hot Hell in a Bucket was cast by the band, highlighted by rhythm guitarist Tom Circosta's Bobby-esque voice wailing out intense vocals. Then, a surprisingly upbeat and inspired Loser was played, followed by three fantastic, mind-boggling ZT originals, Sacrifice, I'm Ready*, and Light of Life. This terrific trifecta of soul-satisfying songs was played excellently and included some fine jamming by each member. Eclectic electric keyboardist/ violinist/trumpeter Jason Crosby shined during these songs. He plays his violin masterfully with the grace of a dolphin commanding the musical waves of a sonic ocean. The last song played that night was an emotionally-charged Sugar Magnolia. The high emotional level was due in part to the fact that the four drunk girls had screamed for its performance the whole night. But the main reason was the response that the crowd gave the band the entire night. The Tricksters just rode the intense emotional wave that the crowd provided and hit the apex during the last song. The whole show was fused with a mystical, musical melange of rock, jazz, and, most notably, blues. One song was, in fact, a simple blues ditty that was transformed into an eruptive blues explosion due to the band's great jamming. The entire night served as more than just another jam band concert for me and, in my opinion, for the rest of the crowd. It elevated my internal emotions to a level that I did not have when I entered the venue. It was a revelation of how great music really is and how strong its effect can be on an individual and large groups of people. A hot, steamy bath of musical bliss, this Tricksters show was great and contained no trickery by the band. They revealed all of their talents that night on stage and proved that they are more than worthy of being seen again. *ZT Note: Thanks very much Grady, but we have to admit that Muddy Waters, and not the Zen Tricksters, wrote I'm Ready.

Zen Tricksters Carry on the Grateful Dead Spirit

by Rex Rutkoski, August 8, 2000

In the search for a name, the Zen Tricksters have embraced an inspired choice. Let guitarist-vocalist Jeff Mattson, a founder, explain: "We like to think our music is very much about being in the moment. You can't be thinking about what you're doing and doing it really well when you play this improvisional music." They want to get to a place, he says, where these is a group mind and a collective consciousness where the music plays the band. "If you are thinking about it, it's not really there. You want to empty your head so the music comes through you," Mattson adds. That takes care of the "Zen" part. Now, what about the "Tricksters"? Simple answer, Mattson says. "The trick is not taking yourself too seriously and having fun with it." Audiences across America are seeing how these lofty concepts translate on stage. Word-of-mouth suggests it can be a heady experience. Mattson formed the Tricksters in 1989 from the remains of a Grateful Dead cover band called The Volunteers that was popular in the New York area. Mattson wanted to focus more on original music--music that was close to his heart, he says--and to record. The Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh liked what he heard and invited the musicians to join him on some of his "Phil Lesh and Friends" concerts. The Zen Tricksters can be found on the jam-band circuit inviting listeners with an adventurous ear. "We appeal to an adventurous sort of person, a person who doesn't want to see the same super tight show every time," he says. Every time you see the Tricksters, you see a different show, he promises. "It's different songs in a different order played completely differently. It's kind of jazz in a rock contect," he explains. The live experience is really what it's all about for him, says Mattson. "Though we made a CD we tried to capture the live feel. Performing live is being in the zone and being spontaneously creative, putting yourself on a line out there and trying to express what you're feeling inside in a musical fashion in the moment." So when you come to a Zen Tricksters show, here's what to expect, according to Mattson: "Some good tunes played well with lots of exploratory jamming." He smiles. Ah, the jam! In a good jam everybody has to be listening to each other, he says. "A good jam would be something that is greater than the sum of its parts, where a musical idea is formed that's more than any one individual envisions. You have four and, in the future in this band, five musicians going at it at the same time. As long as everybody is tuned in with each other, you get something beyond what you could have imagined. It's four very different personalities coalescing." And, yes, he agrees, there can be a thin line between an inspired jam and one that is over- indulgent. "You can't make it happen. You can be as open to it as possible and be as fluent and fluid as possible, but there are times when it's just not there. And you run the risk of having several minutes of exploratory noodling." The audience for this type of music, though, is forgiving, he says. "They will give you some leeway there because they know you're trying. The audience is very important in all this too. You get the energy back from them when it's happening. You feel it coming back from the audience really strong. We feed off that and they feed from what is coming from the stage." Mattson says he enjoys mining that energy on the festival circuit. "It gives you a chance to hopefully play on a nice day outdoors, as opposed to a dark, smoky indoor place (he laughs). And it gives you a chance to play for a very large crowd, exposing yourself to people who may not have seen you before." Mattson senses that the entire jam-band scene that currently is thriving was a reaction to the break-up of the Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia passed away. "All those folks were looking for a place to continue, not that there weren't any jam bands before that," he says. "A lot of other bands began to get a chance in the spotlight," he says. "Before primarily it was Phish and the Dead and a few other bands. Now people are going to see jam bands everywhere." It all gets back to that adventurous spirit to which Mattson has made the reference. "Yes, these people are willing to go with the flow and see where the music goes and dance. And they don't need a solid disco beat to dance (he laughs). They can dance to much more free-form things." The music of the Grateful Dead has been such a touchstone for many because it was so good, Mattson says. "It did fill a void that nobody else was really filling. Most rock tours consisted of a band doing primarily the same show every night. "The Dead, as much as they had a reputation for jamming, and that certainly was valid, also have very good songs. That sort of gets overlooked." They were great songwriters, he reminds. "They were great songs, very well constructed and very melodic tunes. And there were excellent musicians playing them with very individually defined styles for each instrument. And they had something that was pretty unique." Mattson, himself a Deadhead, attended upwards of 200 Dead shows. "I met just about all the members over the years," he says. The opportunity to work with Phil Lesh was no less than a wonderful experience. "It was kind of a dream come true for someone who had been a fan of his and the Dead for so many years," he adds. There was much to learn from Lesh, he says. "The way to structure jams and stuff like that, wre among them. He was really into having like non-stop sets, so every song would have a musical bridge between it from song to song. We would do that on a smaller scale, but it was interesting to see how the thing took shape when you made the whole set that way. We do that frequently ourselves now. We play for an hour and a half without stopping, creating these improvised instrumental segues." The Zen Tricksters' latest, and second, album is "A Love Surreal." It follows their 1996 debut album, "The Holy Fool." "In both CDs we are trying to get our tunes down to some kind of representative fashion," says Mattson. "But we also wanted to try to capture at least some of what really happens on stage as far as spontaneous jamming. There are a few long cuts on both of them that may be a little shorter than what happens on stage. But all of us are playing at the same time in the studio getting that spontaneous jam." That's what caught Phil Lesh's attention and caused him to call the band, he informs. "He said he was very impressed with our ability to jam in the studio. He claimed the Dead had not been able to do that to his satisfaction." The Tricksters' music has been used in interesting ways beyond the stage. MTV's show, "Making the Video," used the band's "Where You Want to Be," off "A Love Surreal" as background. And some of the band's songs have been employed on the television drama "Felicity." "We haven't even begun to explore our possibilities," says Mattson. "Our creativity comes from a spiritual place. It's one of the mysteries. It comes from a spiritual place and you only have to see how you feel. If you made some good music, there's a joy and calm that comes with that."


Bay Area Bits

Vol. 27, No. 3

The Art of the Zen: by J.C. Juanis The Zen Tricksters have been performing for the past 21 years. Last year, Trickster members guitarist Jeff Mattson and keyboardist Rob Barraco performed several Bay Area shows as part of Phil Lesh and Friends. Barraco has gone on to be a regular member of the ad hoc band, so it's safe to say that the group's fortunes have changed for the better since its last San Francisco performance. At a recent Zen Tricksters show, Grateful Dead Radio host David Gans and local jam band sensation Taos Hum joined the group. Gans has enjoyed performing his original folk-tinged songs in recent years, and he was joined by The Zen Tricksters for the Dead's Bird Song and his self-penned Western swing nugget Crazy Crazy Crazy. His music is steeped in the fabric of Americana as solo renditions of River and Drown, The Minstrel, and An American Family displayed. The Zen Tricksters may be the best Grateful Dead-oriented band performing today. Besides the aforementioned Mattson and Barraco, the Band also features bassist Klyph Black and drummer Joe Chirco. Black, in particular, has a knack for whipping up a crowd in a hurry, as his incendiary version of the classic Hard to Handle amply demonstrated. For a quartet, The Zen Tricksters cover an enormous amount of musical ground. Mattson's fiery guitar playing blended magnificently with the band's solid rhythm section and the place literally shook as the group performed such time-honored classics as Shakedown Street, Dark Star, and an incredible, show-stopping Comes a Time. The jamming was relentless as Mattson and Company explored the outer boundaries of jazz and space, finally settling in on a cool version of Eleanor Rigby. For the finale, Gans joined The Zen Tricksters for another solid jam that culminated with a rousing Scarlet Begonias.


Bay Area Bits

Vol. 25, No. 3

Getting To Terrapin: The Maritime Hall Celebrated Mardi Gras with a high octane show featuring the Zen Tricksters, David Gans and Puddle Junction Puddle Junction is a five-piece band hailing from Chico, CA that has developed quite a grassroots following. Led by charsmatic vocalist, Doug Stein, Puddle Junction's sound incorporates '60's psychedelia, country, blues and good old rock 'n' roll. Its recent release, Reinvent The Wheel, features a wonderful blend of all these styles and more. Guitarist Brian Asher and keyboardist Rob Lamonica weave a hypnotic groove, which was warmly received. Asher, in particular, is quite a twanger, and his guitar gymnastics are one of the reasons for the band's success. The Zen Tricksters may just be the finest Grateful Dead-influenced band playing today. Legendary for its improvisational shows on the East Coast, the group was afforded a hero's welcome at the Maritime Hall. Led by guitarist Jeff Mattson, the Zen Tricksters mix Grateful Dead classics with tasty original material in the Bay Rock style. The musical interplay between Klyph Black (bass), Rob Barraco (keyboards) and Joe Chirco (drums) - was simply astonishing. At times it was hard to believe that there were just four musicians on stage. Mattson displayed considerable prowess on the guitar on such nuggets as "Fire on the Mountain," "Rubin and Cherise," "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and "Terrapin Station." The later was particularly eerie, as Mattson played the song's seldom performed, live segment "At A Siding." A Mardi Gras parade set to "Iko Iko" began the second set, complete with stilt walkers, fire eaters and a dinosaur float. Earlier in the evening, the Zen Tricksters backed David Gans during the finale of his set for rousing renditions of "Hooker River" and "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy." -J.C. Juanis


The Grateful Dead New Year's Eve Tradition Lives on...

Issue 37

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Long Island Sounds

Issue No. 722 Dec.26 1997-Jan.12 1998

Believe it or not, the Zen Tricksters have been together in one form or another for almost 20 years - started when the New Riders of the Purple Sage always toured with The Dead and Garcia played pedal steel instead of Buddy Cage. Ther has been much said and written about the Tricksters as being a Grateful Dead cover band. Well that might be true to some degree to the small and shallow minded but the truth is that this unit takes Dead Music as well as Generational Music to a different plateau; Not Ken Kesey's, not Stanley Owsley's and not to Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. But to the Tricksters' peak that they alone conquered, staked out, and own.. They truly have a deep rooted love and affection for this type of American Traditional Music and it is represented and evidenced in their original inerpretations of such. The sweet smells of patchouli, chompa and sage filtered through the air as the boys opened their 4 hour set with the Traditional "Deep Elum Blues" onto the original "That's All" with lead guitarist Jeff Mattson handling vocals througha classic Dead ditty "Jack-a-roe." Up next was a speacial treat. Bassist, Klyph Black traded his 5 string bass with a dobro and kicked out his self penned original "Down the Road." Sprung from a Heart core of hyper driven elegance and relentless intensity. His hypnotizing slide work finds few equals in its' chronicling of exhaustion. Following Klyph's rendition of the Pig Pen anthem "Operator" Mattson took back the spotlight with vocals on "Lazy River Road." Rounding out the Tricksters are drummer, Joe Chirco who is a tight percussionist with the inborn instincts of a metronome.. He has truly developed some fearsome chops and his use of tricky time signatures and solos is incredible. Keyboardist, Rob "Bittersweet" Barraco can easily sculpt a feeling of awe with his control over phrasing combined with his laid-back authority. Featured this evening was the "Speed of Light" Show. Their employ of film, imager, art with a heavy dose of imagination brought the Tricksters to the next level of Nirvana. Reminiscent of the Fillmore's Pig Joshua, and Joe's Light Shows, they added sensitivity and depth to this holistic musical experience - Sight, sound and smell. After a short intermission, ZT returned with the next portion of the performance. "Bird Song" segued into "Cassady" (about Neal Cassady, an original member of the Beats, then part of the Merry Pranksters) and back to "Bird Song," which drew us in and enveloped us for about 20 minutes. "Help on the Way" through "Slipknot" and "Franklin's Tower" brought most to a legal pseudo sexual narcotic trance. The Tricksters showed what was in the very depths of their soul - Raw spiritual energy and erotic liberation. Their performance, as I said was 4 hours, and combined various originals with Dead obscurities and hits, that included "Ther Other One," "Viola Lee Blues," "Days Between," "Terrapin Station," Mason's Children" to name but a few. As it was with the Dead and appears to be with the Zent Tricksters, it's not the recording but rather the concert that forms the essential musical document. Moment vs. Artifact characterize the mood of jam oriented style and drifting in and out of belladonic ether while spacing out on great vibes, great lights and familiar smells. Tasteful feedback on "Space Jam" along with the Dead Classic "Goin' Down the Raod Feeling Bad" was a fond tribute to the "Fat Man" and proper closing to the praise of genail counter culture and psychedelia. Be aware people, the Zen Tricksters are here to hear. -Blue Lou Margiore


Guitarist has Deadheads doing double takes

Jeff Mattson hears it all the time. "Hey, Jerrreeeee," they yell. Reluctantly, Mattson always turns around. He knows they're talking to him. It's his beard, his frizzy brown hair pulled back in a Jeffersonaian ponytail and his glasses perched on the edge of his nose. Mattson looks like that famous guitarist with the missing middle finger, a young Jerry Garcia before the black T-shirt uniform and the daily diet of cigarettes and ice cream. But that's just the beginning. Mattson plays lead guitar with the Zen Tricksters, one of the country's best Grateful Dead cover bands. And he plays and sounds so much like Garcia, it'll make any Deadhead do a double take. Really. It's uncanny. See for yourself at Saturdays's Smilefest as Hodgkin Valley Farm. The tinny voice. The runs on the guitar. The beard. The hair. The glasses. It'll make many remember the improvisational jams about August West, the Do-da man or Jack Straw from Wichita. "I never thought consciously to look like him," says Mattson, 38, from his home in NYC. "I did grow a beard, and I did have some trepidations for that very reason. But I thought, 'It's my face, I wanted to grow it,' and like I said, the glasses are real. "But as far as the music goes, it's a complement," he says. "I was trying to get that essence. That was my ideal. When I first heard Garcia play and saw the Dead in 1973, it was such a revelatory experience for me. I thought, 'Whoa, this is what I'm looking for.'" To many, the Zen Tricksters have found it. John Dwork, editor of Dupree's Diamond News, a national magazine highlighting psychedelic rock, says the Tricksters capture the sound, style and the Dead's "magical space" more than any other Grateful Dead tribute band around. And Mattson is a big par of that, Dwork says. Mattson first saw the Dead when he was 14 right after he started playing the guitar. Then for the next two decades, Mattson studied Garcia. He saw 200 shows and listened to countless tapes, over and over. That all has paid off. You hear Mattson and the Zen Tricksters, and you think 1971. Especially when you hear them play something like the Dead's "Scarlet Begonias," flowing into Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna," back out into the Dead's "Viola Lee Blues." "That's why we keep coming back for more," Mattson says. "That's why we drive 17 hours to play. You get like junkies for that experience, that natural high." Back in the 1980's, the Dead's Brent Mydland and Bill Kreutzmann watched the Zen Tricksters from a backstage perch. When Mattson came off, Kreutzmann stopped him and said, "You can take our place when we die." Later Mickey Hart, one of the bands drummers, heard the Tricksters playing on tape the Dead's version of "The Eleven." Hart asked, "Wait a minute, isn't this us, 1969 Fillmore?" Mattson, thought, didn't meet Garcia until 1993. He was in a hotel bar. "I'm not like one to go up to people, but I thought, 'Well, this is it, it's now or never' so I went up to him, shook his hand and told him 'Days Between'(a song) was best thing they've done in years, and he said, 'Yeah, yeah, we're real excited about it,'" Mattson Says. It was relatively short , but I'm so glad I did that." In August 1995, Garcia died at 53. Five months later, the Dead called it quits. "Since the demise of the Dead, we seem to be filling a gap that needs to be filled," Mattson says. "I'm not saying we'll ever take the place of the Dead, but people come up to us every night and say, 'I needed that bad. I needed to hear those songs.'" Play, Jeff, Play -Jeri Rowe


LI Sounds

Volume 1 Number 7 5/29-6/04/97

The Zen Tricksters, one of the country's most popular Dead cover bands, have harvested a freshly eclectic, mixed bag on their first all-original CD. The Disc opens with a decisively Dead feel; "Victim of Circumstance" gracefully dances around leader Jeff Mattson's guitar lines, its sharp and angular groove reminiscent of "Help on the Way." The Holy Fool is diverse: The Zen-men tumble into the calypso bounce of "Arise," a song about youthful explorations and leaving your mark. They enter the high-steppin,' down home yee-haw of "Done is Done," exploring the country rock realm so often traversed by Jerry and the boys. Keyboardist Rob Barraco steps forward on "Drowning," displaying some soulful, rootsy organ blues, while harp-drenched passages spin into infinity. "Body Parts" gurgles and belches with that classic New Orleans gumbo-funk offered by bands like the Radiators. During "Lay Your Love," Klyph Black walks his bass and listeners into a gleefully thumping eurhythmia, while Dave Diamond's resourceful drumming propels Zen into that improvisational netherworld known as the jam. Other first-rate tracks round out the disc, all showcasing the Tricksters' psychedelic, cosmic dance and Robert Hunter's lyrical influence. -Ian D'Giff


Too New To Be Known

February 1997

The Zen Tricksters has been a constant live attraction on the New York music scene for many years and certainly deserves more recognition than it has received to date. Live, the band has a powerful Grateful Dead-influenced sound that couples exploratory jams with rich melodies and a plethora of musical genres. It has now captured the essence of that sound in its long overdue first full-length CD, The Holy Fool, in which the band makes no musical compromises and offers plenty of musical pleasures. These days, the Tricksters is reduced to a four-piece lineup with the absence of female vocalist Jennifer Markard, who guests on "Homesick." The quartet, however has an extremely full and vital sound. Not only are they competent players, they have that little extra something that makes them special. Witness the jazzy flair of "Drownin" or the funk filled excursions in "Victim Of Circumstance." The Tricksters show off its musical prowess in the lifting "Shine Your Light" and its grittier side with the muscular ten and a half minute "Lay Your Love.: The two most striking things about the album though, are the strength of each of its dozen songs and the musical empathy between the band. Highly recommended.


Sunday, Jan. 19, 1997

Thanks to their prior incarnation as The Volunteers, a Grateful Dead cover band, the Zen Tricksters became a wildly popular local attraction. Eventually, they incorporated their Dead influences into their own original rock-jazz-blues sound. Their long-awaited all-original debut, "The Holy Fool," reveals far-ranging influences and musicianship. Moving beyond the Dead's shadow, the quartet creates a sound that could just as easily be compared with Steely Dan's "Victim of Circumstance" or Paul Simon's "Graceland" "Arise" features Caribbean rhythms closely connecting to African roots. "Body Parts," with its clever word play, is a roaring blues track. The Dead's spirit still makes itself known, whether through melodic jams, familiar phrasing or mystical lyricism, but the Dead's free-spirited bluegrass roots are set aside for a funkier groove. The band members blare on their respective instruments, raging even in the slow-grooved "Drownin". Far from cover band land, this is the big league.
- Robbie Woliver


New life after Dead tribute

January 3, 1997

Instead of the usual publicity photo, the Zen Tricksters offer a line drawing -a series of squiggles, actually- that looks like amateurish scribble. Slowly, however, it grows on you - like the band itself. The Zen Tricksters at first might turn you off: Once a Grateful Dead cover band known as the Volunteers, the Long Island quartet now divides its performances between Dead tunes and originals. The members are so musically adept and creative, however, that even tribute haters can appreciate the schizoid approach. the fulcrum is Jeff Mattson, 38, who founded the Volunteers in 1979. Back from a two-week Colorado tour, Mattson spoke by phone about the band last week. "Anyone familiar with the Dead sound will recognize the influences," the singer guitarist said. "But it's definitely not a band trying to sound like the Dead." Their idols are more of a launching point for Mattson, keyboardist Rob Barraco, bassist Klyph Black, and drummer Dave Diamond, he said. The reinvented result, pressed onto the band's first album, "The Holy Fool," is spirited, original music that melds jazz, rock, and blues with country and fold. Although you often hear Jerry Garcia in the grooves. Steely Dan comes to mind just as easily. "I've never had a real job in my life, so I'm not complaining about playing the Grateful Dead," Mattson said. "It's a vehicle, really, for us to improvise our own songs-there are no rigid parts to play. And it does supplement our livelihoods. "But we're trying to make our own way now, doing our own thing. With the CD out, we're hoping to get credibility outside the Dead world." Not that the band members have entirely abandoned Garcia, Bob Weir, and the rest of their muses - no devotee can. Keeping a tradition alive, the Zen Tricksters perform at Grateful Dead-style New Year's Eve shows, complete with Father Time, Baby New Year (in a tie-dyed diaper), and a midnight version of "Sugar Magnolia." Sometimes the band divides its performances between originals and covers, or it leans toward one or the other, depending on the audience reaction. For their first gig at the Stone Pony, the Tricksters focused primarily on original material. Saturdays night's show at Wetlands could feature and even split, Mattson said. Like the Dead, the Zen Tricksters can sometimes launch into extended jams, sometimes for more than a half-hour. "Depends on the time, depends on the night, if it feels right," Mattson said. "One of the things about the Dead was that you never knew what you were going to get. There was always that sense of danger," he added. "With Billy Joel, you're going to get the same thing you got the night before." "I'm committed to being a little more consistent. But we never do the same show twice. Like the man said: You pays your money, you takes your chances."
- Jerry DeMarco

The Musicians' Exchange

November 1996

The Zen Tricksters have just released their debut CD, titled The Holy Fool, and they celebrated the event with a release party at the Long Island Brewing Company. If I had to pick any one show of theirs to attend, this was it. I entered the show a skeptic; I exited a fan. This band is, in a word, incredible. I knew going in that the Zen Tricksters is comprised of highly skilled and creative musicians, but I wasn't prepared for (nor was I expecting) the eruption of creativity that flowed from this group. Guitarist Jeff Mattson may derive much of his inspiration from Jerry Garcia, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. It's evident that he possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music and the technical ability to adapt and blend diverse styles in a way that makes his guitar playing a multi-tongued voice of musical expression. In a word, fantastic. That same term applies to keyboardist Rob Barraco, although "otherworldly" might be a bit more apt. This individual does for the keyboard what Picasso did for the canvas, no hype. He's one of the best players I've heard anywhere, ever. No hype, just simple fact. Bassist Klyph Black builds a foundation for the group with his blues-based anchoring. While he doesn't impress me as much of an innovator, he brings a rootsy feel to the bands music that's a vital element in the mix. Drummer Dave Diamond is one of the best all-around musicians I've ever met. A unique guitarist and songwriter in his own right, he brings a lyrical quality to the drums that is seldom heard. Knowing Diamond from his tenure in Wide Awake and remembering his approach to the drums at that point in time. I was amazed to discover how deep an influence jazz played in his musical makeup with the Tricksters. These four musicians put their combined instrumental and vocal talents to work on material that let the band's strengths shine dazzlingly bright. The mixture of folk, country, blues, jazz and pure experimentalism proved to be combustible. The performance left the ground early on in the set and pretty much stayed that way for the duration. For me, the highlight was "Lay Your Love," a song penned by Dave Diamond that I became familiar with through his other band, Satya. This is a song perfectly suited to the Zen Tricksters, and the band made full use of its possibilities. For more than 10 minutes, the Tricksters traded more musical ideas between them than stock shares on a typical day on Wall Street. Other picks were "Hoodoo," kind of a swamp-rock type of affair, "Body Parts" and "Shine Your Light." I left the Long Island Brewing Company with a copy of the CD, drove immediately home and played it; not once but three times in succession. Like the live performance, the album is something to experience. With the type of music the Zen Tricksters are making, and the large audience it's bound to appeal to, I'd wager that here's one more Long Island band that's poised for a break through.
-Roy Abrams

Dupree's Diamond News

You've read many times in this magazine about how good the New York-based Zen Tricksters are at playing Grateful Dead music. Well, they manage to crank out some pretty serious jams in concert on their own tunes as well. Their debut studio CD, The Holy Fool features 12 of these self-penned songs. When folks talk about The Tricksters, the incredible Garcia-like guitar work of Jeff Mattson always seems to come up first. But on "The Holy Fool," keyboardist Rob Barraco's incredible talent shines equally large - he is arguably one of the finest keyboardists in rock and roll today. Do not miss this band when it lands in your town. Close your eyes when the Tricksters are jamming and you'd swear you're at the Fillmore in 1970!