Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Spiritual brothers of Phish and, like that band, heirs to the throne left vacant by the Grateful Dead, Zen Tricksters have spent the last decade traveling from venue to venue across the country adding new fans, young and old, with their brand of loose and involved improvisatory music. Based in New York, Zen Tricksters have their roots as the Volunteers, who began circa the early '80s solely as a Grateful Dead cover band. The band re-formed in 1988, continuing with Grateful Dead covers but also writing their own original like-minded tunes. With the loss of vocalist Jennifer Markard, the lineup was pared down to a four-piece made up of Jeff Mattson (vocals, guitar), Rob Barraco (vocals, keyboards), Klyph Black (vocals, bass), and Joe Chirco (drums). The band built up a large fan base the old-fashioned way: lots of intensely hard work touring across the country and a growing reputation as a superb live act, catching on not only with appreciative Deadheads and Phriendlies, but with general fans of exploratory jams and creative improvisation. By the mid-'90s, Zen Tricksters had played from Maine to Oregon and were packing ballrooms and large venues. They have opened for a diverse group of music acts, from Hot Tuna to Suzanne Vega. In addition, Zen Tricksters have acted as the backup band for numerous musicians, including Rick Danko and Bo Diddley. The band's primary influence is, of course, the Grateful Dead, and its music reflects that band's blend of rock, blues, folk, and bluegrass, but there are also prevalent classical and jazz influences. Zen Tricksters recorded Holy Fool, their first album of all-original songs, in 1996; two years later, it achieved wider release via the Zebra Tango label. The follow-up, Love Surreal, was recorded in 1999, featuring the same lineup. By the turn of the millennium, several personnel shifts had taken place: Barraco departed and was replaced by seasoned jam band vet Pete Levin, while Chirco was replaced by Alan Lerner (formerly of Joe Gallant & Illuminati and the Dimitri Gurevitch Quintette), and second guitarist/vocalist Tom Circosta (a former member of the Volunteers) joined up as well.