Drummer/Bandleader Alex Louloudis Puts Out a Brilliant, Intense, Ferocious New Album
Until the lockdown, the jazz program at New York’s New School was a fertile crucible for up-and-coming talent. One lucky composer who had the presence of mind to seize the moment and make an album there is drummer Alex Louloudis, whose often savagely kinetic, sizzling new release, Words is streaming at Bandcamp. A lot of the firepower comes from tenor saxophonist Rafael Statin, a rivetingly intense, feral yet keenly focused player, someone we will no doubt be hearing a lot more from in the years to come. Kaelen Ghandhi also contributes memorably on tenor here.
The opening number is the aptly titled Surviving. Bassist Dean Torrey hints at an evil chromatic climb and then alludes to it over and over while Louloudis swings hard. Ghandhi squalls and wails, guitarist Aaron Rubinstein throwing steady, skronky chords into the mix. The sax straightens out for a searing solo, then Ghandhi and Rubinstein build a bonfire again as Loulodis throws elbows, Torrey’s racewalking pulse holding the center. The ending is a logical surprise. It’s a strong opener.
Most of the rest of the album is a trio effort. The second number, Expedition in NOLA has moodily crescendoing, increasingly agitated sax over a tensely swinging pulse that Statin does his best to drag off the rails, but the rhythm section remain resolute. Torrey’s coyly dancing solo hints at a New Orleans second-line groove,
If there’s a common thread among the New School crowd, it’s improvisation, borne out by the next number, The Magic of 3. The bandleader’s tightly wound, suspensefully stampeding drive in tandem with Torrey’s dancing pedalpoint give Statin a long launching pad for a slashing modal solo, Louloudis’ own solo subtly dipping to launch what could have been a far eerier reprise. It’s too bad they fade it so soon.
In Ochun’s Dance – presumably a shout-out to the Yoruban love goddess – the band springboard off a wry, Monk-like theme to a racewalking swing, Statin’s careening from smoky to completely incendiary. I Hear You Eric – a Dolphy homage, maybe – begins with a gentle, lyrical insistence which Torrey seizes to get the pot boiling and send Statin skyward with his quicksilver trills, machinegunning riffs, sixteenth-note volleys and overdriven exuberance. Yeah, all of these are Coltrane tropes, but Statin nails them.
Rubinstein and Ghandhi return to join the trio for the album’s concluding, title cut, an echoey, deep-space tableau. “I like words that kill and free us all, some from our poverty, others from their bourgeois life,” vocalist Rosdeli Marte intones with just a hint of gleeful triumph. The choice of musical theme seems sarcastic to the extreme. It’s a strange way to end the album, but this is a group who aren’t afraid of taking risks. In 2021, that’s a survivor’s defining esthetic.