Alex Louloudis & Zack Clarke
What We Are
ears & eyes
In the spirit of exposing independent artists, we bring you the third release from jazz and free jazz drummer and composer Alex Louloudis and pianist Zack Clarke, What We Are. This is the second Louloudis duo outing as he teamed with saxophonist Rafael Statin on his 2017 debut, Elements Brought Together By Love, and led a six-piece ensemble on his 2021 Words. The Greece-born musician has been playing professional for 17 years, making his mark in NYC’s creative music scene. He received a scholarship to study at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He was also awarded the Eubie Blake Scholarship, and the ‘Kostas Kouvidis’ Scholarship for drummers. He graduated from The New School in December 2017. Pianist and composer Zack Clarke has received international acclaim for his explorations of jazz improvisation, classical, and electronic music. He has three albums as a leader, two with a trio and another with a quintet on Clean Feed Records.
The album presents mostly compositions that Louloudis had written over the five-year period preceding the album as he familiarized himself with NYC and cements the connection he made with Clarke around the time of his graduation from the New School. The two are kindred spirits in terms of tastes and influences, as they point to such artists as Ornette Coleman and Oliver Lake, the latter who was Louloudis’ composition teacher. Lake encouraged the drummer to expand his artistic palette beyond music to embrace poetry and painting. Hence the drummer’s artwork graces the album and his poem “What We Are” is for drum teacher and mentor since 2012, Michael Carvin.
The album opens with “Kiss,” a rather simple melody that extends into a Clarke piano solo after its two repetitive refrains. Minimalist in concept, the last two notes in two different registers are meant to mimic a symbolic kiss at the end of a phone call. Louloudis’ drumming here is subtly effective, often serving as an echo rather than a driver for the pianist. The cymbal emphasized drumming is more prominent in the dedication to Lake, “Another Lake Joint” but the angular, jagged, uplifting piece leaves plenty of space too. The standout “The Poetry of A Deserted City” is initially more pensive in keeping with title, a musical expression of the drummer’s walk through his birthplace, the city of Drama in Greece. Accordingly, or maybe by pure coincidence, he does take the city’s namesake to heart, building drama and excitement across various sections of the piece as if discovering new sights and sounds around each corner.
“Happy Music for Spiritual Beings of Any Kind” is a jaunty tune with Celia Cruz, Angelique Kidjo, and Eddie Palmieri in mind for their charismatic presence, not their respective music stylings. “Nothing” is a return to minimalism in the solo piano piece with the title referring to the temporariness of our existence on this vast earth. “Red” sees the duo engaged again in an uplifting piece that Louloudis wrote on his return to NYC from a summering in Greece in 2017, as such it seems with nostalgic expressions, represented by alternating the pensive with highly vigorous passages. “Carvinte” for Michael Carvin opens with a drum solo, the first we’ve heard as we reach track 7.
Clarke follows with a Monk-like turn and the piece ends with both playing the melody twice. Louloudis then recites the title track as a poem, again for Carvin. The short, chord driven piano intro leads to a more fleshed out, repetitive piano solo but when Louloudis’ voice enters, it’s rather jolting. We don’t expect it. Another piano solo commences, the drums rattle over the vamp, and conclude the piece. “Everything” is a companion solo piano piece to “Nothing,” both recorded previously by Leonid Galaganov. Be ready for the surprising ending chord.
What We Are is filled with gorgeous, intriguing, and surprising moments. Even though the drummer is the supposed leader, it is a true partnership and fans of creative scene pianists such as Matthew Shipp, Marilyn Crispell, Kris Davis, Craig Taborn, and others should pay heed.
- Jim Hynes
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