Sway Against the Machine


The braying horns run wild at first, but soon get tamed and yoked into towing the plodding guitar, which trembles like a long tracking shot in a Jim Jarmusch film. The singing begins, and unless you were raised with a healthy (and possibly heaping) dose of Judaism, these are not lyrics you understand, yet they fold you into the ritualistic rhythms, soaring brass lines, and guttural voice of Jeremiah Lockwood, mastermind behind the Sway Machinery. Lockwood’s arrangements of Jewish cantorial songs whip up a frenzy wherein all the world’s music can do that which music does best: celebrate. Arrangements of Yiddish, Aramaic, and Hebrew lyrics mesh with Antibalas horns and American rock ‘n’ roll blues thick with call-and-response field hollers. Such joyful synthesis is what music is all about, not to mention what New York is all about. So it’s no surprise that Lockwood, a born-and-raised Gotham denizen, embraces such a melting-pot perspective. “It’s about the subcurrent of all folk music,” he says. “The ability to find identity in mythological places, not political places.”

Lockwood grew up regaled and schooled by the songs of his grandfather, the renowned cantor Jacob Konigsberg. The young prodigy was steeped in music that demanded an individual voice willing to submit to a grander purpose that transcends the individual—the Sway Machinery apply the same rubric. What the band’s players share most in common is not religion, however, but the passion for channeling emotions and ideas that would otherwise go unheard. Drummer and Sway Machinery co-founder Tomer Tzur sits steadily behind the drum kit, sharing rhythm section duty with Colin Stetson on bass saxophone, not bass guitar. Stuart Bogie and Jordan McLean (on tenor sax and trumpet, respectively) round out the band—together, the quintet tells ancient stories ranging from meditative and snaking to madcap and bone-rattling.

Lockwood’s earliest musical endeavors—street musician gigs playing Southern blues on subway platforms—were an extension of all those hours he spent absorbing his grandfather’s records. The Sway Machinery thrive on that same energy of tradition translated, an absolutely vital variation that’s inventive but no less reverent. The result is buoyant, evocative, and incredibly physical—songs that combine styles with seemingly nothing in common toward the aim of celebrating everything we do have in common. Namely, the language of song, even if the words themselves don’t make much sense.

The Sway Machinery play Southpaw Saturday with Balkan Beat Box, 8 p.m. doors, $15–$17,

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