Licorice is available in many different flavors. One of Brooklyn’s best kept secrets, Licorice is the rare band—-these days—-that embraces the term jam as a compliment and a sign of its ability to shift between styles with ease. Offering a loose mix of rock, jazz, funk, soul and trance, often within a single improvisational segment, Licorice has quickly made a name for itself in the greater New York-area through a series of high profile club appearances and is poised to brand itself in other regions of the country in the coming months.
Though Licorice’s current lineup is barely two years old, the group’s roots date back to the late 1980s when guitarist David Lott first met drummer Joshua Bloom while attending summer camp in the foothills of the Poconos. A few years later, Lott found himself studying at the University of Michigan where, along with bassist Matthew Epstein, he formed the popular Ann Arbor band Meropoix. Returning to New York after graduation, Lott and Epstein began gigging in various incarnations before forming their own jazz/soul flavored trio with Bloom. Taking its name from a famous Jerry Garcia quote (“Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice REALLY like licorice”), Licorice began playing gigs throughout the tri-state area, also scoring a spot at Telluride’s annual Jazz Fest in August of 2002. While in Telluride, famed jazz/fusion guitarist Larry Coryell heard Licorice and later joined the trio for the majority of its set. He has remained something of a mentor to the burrowing group ever since.
In August of 2003, a serious of chance coincidences and mutual friends put Licorice in touch with keyboardist Chad Dinzes, completing the group’s current lineup. Dinzes, fresh off an experience in a more pop/rock oriented Washington D.C project, quickly gelled with the trio and helped expand the group’s palette, which by this time included elements of rock, jazz, funk, soul and trance. While holding down day jobs, the newly minted quartet continued to perform throughout the New York-area also returning to Telluride for another series of Jazz Fest appearances. During one particularly memorable show, veteran personality Mike Dillon joined Licorice as a second percussionist for a complete performance.
Back home, Licorice dug a bit deeper into its jazz roots, scoring the first of several sold-out gigs at Greenwich Village’s famed Blue Note. Part of the venue’s new Late Night groove series, Licorice’s set stretched until 3 AM and featured two-sets stuffed with original material. At the group’s most recent Blue Note performance, the quartet rearranged a number of its songs as acoustic compositions with Dinzes playing the venue’s famed piano. In addition to presenting the group’s three-part harmonies in a more audible form, this acoustic configuration also showcased the group’s strengthened songwriting.
“Nobody is going to deny that we’re a jamband because that’s the truth,” Lott admits. “But, we also have a certain affinity for structure. I think that’s what separates us from just being just another jamband.”
2005 has been a banner year for the longtime friends. In February, Licorice played a two-night stand at Burlington’s famed Nectar’s and used the opportunity to build a mini-tour around the northeast. Upon returning to New York, the group landed a spot opening for a rare reunion of Deep Banana Blackout’s original lineup at the popular lower east side watering hole The Bowery Ballroom. “After that we had enough of our own material and we were really improvising in our own way,” Lott says. “Part of developing a sound in this community is taking a little bit from everyone and making it their own. Like, I saw Phish in ’97 and they played wah wah’ funk and we danced for 17 hours but that’s not necessarily what we want to do. But there is an element of that we’ve incorporated into our sound.”
Other standout gigs in the New York area have found Licorice supporting Bernie Worrell, performing a surprise Halloween set at the Bitter End and playing CMJ as part of Relix’s annual new music showcase. In August, the quartet was featured in Relix Magazine where, by chance, Licorice’s On the Verge profile appeared just pages away from the Garcia quote which inspired its moniker. “[Since February] everybody has been making our sound their own,” Epstein says. “A year prior to that we were all a little more hesitant to venture outside the box. Now, everyone is willing to take more chances”
In the middle of August, the group also returned to Telluride for another appearance at the resort town’s Jazz Festival where it performed an unprecedented 5 shows in 3 days. All four band members describe one particular outdoor gig as the best show the Licorice ever played. “It was an unexpected show, on the main drag, right before the main late night gig,” Bloom says. “I think we really stepped it up in terms of both our energy and our performance.” At one point a truck full of bikers even showed up and let down their guard on the street’s open dance floor.
Covers continue to showcase both Licorice’s eclectic tastes and its playfulness. Since its inception, Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” has been among the group’s most requested jam vehicles. “I think our jamming abilities really come out in some of the covers we do” Epstein says. “It forces us to really take a song in a new direction—-it is really a great template to try something new and fresh.” Lott continues: “Some of our most original music has happened in that segue moment between two covers.”
Over the past few months, Licorice has also continued to develop its own catalogue of original material. While Lott remains the group’s primary songwriter, each band member continues to flesh out their own part. Two instrumentals in particular “Scarab” and “Freeze” have recently developed into signature tunes. Licorice is also working on a multi-angle camera DVD project documenting a recent performance at Tribeca Rock Club. In the near future, the group also hopes to enter the studio and continue to tour outside its New York.
“We always start every rehearsal with a jam but we tend to practice improvising less than our songs,” Dinzes says. “When we get onstage we really want to be able to hone in on our material but make our jams fresh.”
Candy puns aside, Licorice has truly found its flavor.