Swami Lateplate – Doom Jazz II Review

It’s 11 years since New York’s experimental jazz duo, Swami Lateplate, released their debut, Doom Jazz. To be fair, both its members, Bobby Previte and Jamie Saft, are extremely well-respected jazz musicians and they have been busy with other ventures. Drummer Previte, now in his 70s, has been a presence on the NYC jazz scene since the late 1970s, collaborating with the likes of John Zorn and Elliott Sharp, while the work of pianist Saft has featured on records by Iggy Pop, Beastie Boys, Bad Brains and more, while he has also scored films, including the Oscar-nominated Murderball. Built on the slow, foreboding template of doom metal, over the course of nearly an hour, Doom Jazz, explored dark and brooding semi-free-form jazz worlds. While not itself metal in any sense, it’s one of those records where the inspiration that metal has leant to another genre is writ large. Where does the journey lead on Doom Jazz II?

Doom Jazz II continues Previte’s exploration of the boundary between notated and improvised music, as his work on drums gives a bright, energetic overtone to Saft’s woozy, drawn-out organ and synth work. Spread over three compositions—it feels disrespectful to call them tracks or songs—Swami Lateplate showcases three clear moods, with opener “The New Friend” an ominous, ponderous but strangely heavy number, moving into the spacious (and space-y) ambient vastness of “Everyone is Aware,” before “Deception” carries the listener offer in a completely different direction. A more chaotic and urgent, yet also melodic, piece, “Deception” builds in a more bluesy feel, which immediately put me in mind of French jazz legend Eddy LouissSang Mêlé (and “Blues for Klook” from that record, in particular).

As with the original Doom Jazz, it’s hard not to feel that Previte’s drumming is the star of the show here, despite it being, at least in metal terms, where we’re used to blasts and furious fills, relatively restrained and spare. Until the back end of “Deception” that is, where both members of Swami Lateplate cut loose, freeing themselves from the claustrophobic ambient doom mould they have carved, and briefly venturing into John Zorn’s Naked City-type territory. Previte’s beautifully crystalline work on cymbals and a few dancing keyboard progressions from Saft add a sense of light and shade to the otherwise dim and gloomy moods of Doom Jazz II. The deepest shade is cast by the rumbling, monochrome synths of the first two-thirds of “Everyone is Aware,” before Saft shifts his keyboard into 8-bit mode and, for a couple of minutes, it feels like he might have scored Sega’s original “Golden Axe.”

Swami Lateplate sound fantastic on Doom Jazz II, with the drums having clarity and brightness, especially in the toms, that you simply don’t hear in metal1 and the balance in the mix between the two parts of the duo’s sound is struck perfectly. If I am to be critical of the compositions here, it has to be in a taste sense, rather than in any attempt to actually critique these guys. For my personal taste (and I am not a jazz aficionado, as this review is probably making painfully clear), a few of the transitions are slightly too stark and jarring, most notably the move from the earthquake-aftershocks-into-Golden-Axe-score of “Everyone is Aware.”

On its standout piece, “Deception,” Doom Jazz II’s blues-meets-improv-jazz holds me in the palm of its hand and “The New World” is intriguingly textured, with subtle flourishes that give its bleak ambience a strangely uplifting quality. Where Swami Lateplate slightly misfire is on “Everyone is Aware,” which does too little for the majority its 13-minute plus run, relying overly on ambient synth work, before suddenly doing too much in a rather nerve-jangling way. This is perhaps inherent in the style and reflects an acid jazz sensibility but I found it riled me in a slightly anxiety-inducing way. One of the dangers of reviewing non-metal and metal-adjacent albums (and one I will face again in a few weeks with the indomitable Cherd by my side) is attaching a score to something that sits outside the canon with which we normally deal. Doom Jazz II is, to my taste and sensibilities, far from perfect but it’s also complex, challenging and dares to draw influences from multiple sources to craft something unique.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Subsound Records
Website: swamilateplate.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: September 14th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. Cue a rabbling Commentariat to tell me exactly where I can hear this precise drum sound on some Tibetan one-man atmoblack project.
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