Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY
January 6, 2015
-by Beth Parness
The Zen Tricksters, with Jennifer Markard on lead vocals, Jeff Mattson on lead guitar and vocals, Tom Circosta on rhythm guitar and vocals, Klyph Black on bass and vocals, Rob Barraco on keys and vocals and Dave Diamond on drums and vocals, returned to the Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday for their much anticipated yearly reunion, enthralling fans with a two set performance of Grateful Dead cover songs and original tunes.
Opening up with the GD’s Mission in the Rain, Jeff Mattson’s heartfelt vocals, ascending, jazzy fluid forays up the fret board and the Trickster’s masterful improvisational teamwork infused the crowd with energy.
Free Man in Paris, featuring Jennifer Markard, showcased her formidable skill and ability as a vocalist; her voice is dynamic, bright and full, with a smoother, contrasting underlying delicacy which made it perfect for this Joni Mitchel Classic.
Young Blood, a Coaster’s original came next, a jaunty funky minor blues number, sung with fire and enthusiasm by Tom Circosta, which pulled the crowd to its feet.
Who are you…Really?, a Zen Tricksters original tune featuring Rob Barraco on lead vocals, and Jennifer Markard on harmony, seemed tight and yet totally relaxed, highlighting the band’s eclecticism, and stylistic diversity. There were several more Zen Trickster originals played to the delight of the audience, many of whom were clearly long term fans.
Uncle John’s Band, with Jeff on lead vocals, began with folksy homespun familiarity, then took a left turn into modal transportative unshackled, sonic deep space, yet never lost its focus, reminding us that this is a band of exceptional talent. Uncle John’s Band then transitioned into Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, with its steady, rock-funk beat held down to perfection by Dave Diamond, with Rob Barraco on keys, adding jazzy punctuation, color and counterpoint to the collaborative brew. This, in turn morphed back into Uncle John’s Band to the crowd’s delight, followed by an evocative, beautifully rendered Morning Dew.
The second set was equally diverse and eclectic, opening with Poison Ivy, by the Coasters, followed by Get It While You Can, by the late great Janis Joplin. Jennifer Markard hit every note, investing the song with an emotional immediacy, and hell bent raw power, while Rob Barraco played fat slabs of honky tonk piano and Klyph Black laid down full bodied meaty grooves on bass, electrifying an already pumped up crowd.
As if all this were not enough, the band kicked into a lively raucous rendition of Leave Me Out Of This, a Zen Tricksters tune, also covered by Phil Lesh (turnabout is fair play!) which featured tight, funky, down and dirty Allmanesque -like rhythms that got our groove goin’ on, then taking a sharp left turn into brilliantly deconstructed jazzy runs by Rob Barraco on keyboard, before returning to the main melody.
A blistering breakout drum solo by Dave Diamond followed this. Diamond is a powerhouse on drums, playing polyrhythmic grooves, that couldn’t be funkier or more impressive, and has a way of making fills feel elastic, as if they’re stretching out. He could not be more well-suited to the wide diversity of the Zen Trickster’s repertoire.
A transformative Unbroken Chain was next, soulfully sung by Klyph Black, who breathed new life into this standard, fairly crackling with gorgeously tight improvisational jamming, vibrancy and color, not to mention superb teamwork.
This was followed by a lively Wang Dang Doodle, into a surprising I Want To Tell You by the Beatles. Tom Circosta’s outstanding rhythm guitar playing punctuated the thick tonal soup, keeping this song crisp, and kept the audience bopping, and singing along note for note.
Next up, a sprite I Want to Tell You, by the Beatles, then a hairpin turn into a strong Cryptical Envelopment, that farmed the far reaches of the solar system and back, then morphed into a ferocious Other One, sung with incendiary power by Tom Circosta- primal Tricksters at their best.
This was followed by Light of Life, a Zen Tricksters original- a beautiful, lyrical barn burner of a song, that had strangers helping strangers on the dance floor, and featured unsurpassedly tight ensemble riffing, and polyrhythmic detours.
Last but not least, Let It Bleed, was the perfect funky roadhouse finale, sardonic lyrics sung to great effect by by Klyph Black, which ended to roaring applause.
The encore was a poignant and beautifully rendered I’ll Be With Thee, a tune frequently played by the Jerry Garcia Band, and sung by Tom Circosta, Jennifer Markard and Jeff Mattson, was a fitting send off for a band who’s longevity, musical artistry and unbridled enthusiasm for the music and their audience continues to inspire other jam bands and fans everywhere.
Set 1: Mission In The Rain, Who Are You Really?, Free Man In Paris, Youngblood, On Your Way Down, Blinding Light, Uncle John’s Band, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Uncle John’s Band(Reprise), Morning Dew
Set 2: Poison Ivy, Get It While You Can, Leave Me Out OF This, Unbroken Chain, Wang Dang Doodle, I want to Tell You-JAM-, The Other One, Light of Life, Let It Bleed,
ENCORE-I’ll Be With Thee