John Raymond (tp, flh), Alex LoRe (as), Noam Wiesenberg (b), Colin Stranahan (d), Kind Folk
Bar code: 8427328436403
4 ★ ★ ★ ★
"The second Kind Folk album was planned care fully, and recorded in a hurry, but the music has an almost zen-like calm. The group formed and released its debut, Why Not, in 2018, but then trumpeter John Raymond moved to Indiana, and drummer Colin Stranahan headed to Denver to ride out the pandemic. The group members stayed connected online, and finally reconvened in June 2021: two days of rehearsal in bassist Noam Weisenberg’s Brooklyn apart ment, followed by a day in the studio. Head Towards The Center contains five original com positions —“Power Fall” and “Sweet Spot” by Raymond, “Around, Forever” by alto saxo phonist Alex LoRe, “Mantrois” by Weisenberg, and the title piece by Stranahan and LoRe— along with two short, fully improvised pieces (“Where Am I” and “Distant Signal”) and arrangements of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “Mr. Hope” and singer-songwriter Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars.”
Raymond is originally from Minnesota, and there’s a fundamental niceness and sense
of welcoming to his style. He solos like he’s tell ing you a story at a party, and his flugelhorn sound has the gentle embrace of a Midwestern church ceremony in winter. LoRe is an ideal counterpart, calm and slightly distanced, but leaping excitedly into bebop when the tempo picks up, as on “Mr. Hope.” Weisenberg’s bass is the music’s unstoppable heart, particularly on “Around, Forever,” and Stranahan —also part of Raymond’s bass-less trio, Real Feels— keeps time by not seeming too concerned with it, hanging ornaments on the music with preci sion and a gentle touch."
—Philip Freeman (June, 2022)
"Following an extended hiatus, the inventive and exploratory jazz quartet Kind Folk reunite for their luminous sophomore album, 2022's Head Toward the Center. Named after one of the late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler's most beloved compositions, Kind Folk features trumpeter/flugelhornist John Raymond, alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, bassist Noam Wiesenberg, and drummer Colin Stranahan. Each member of Kind Folk has deep roots in the modern creative jazz scene and they bring this experience to bear in their work as an ensemble — a fact that often gets them labeled a supergroup. While this may be true, there is never a sense that Kind Folk are trying to outshine or compete with each other. On the contrary, they play with an openness and sensitivity to group interplay that belies their individual accomplishments and works as a whole. Which doesn't mean there aren't also moments of stunning improvisational bravura here. There's an airy, classical impressionism to much of the album, and tracks like "Where Am I," "Mantrois," and "Sweet Spot" often sound like spare group improv, as if they were conjured in the moment out of a small sketch of an idea. Others, like the bass-heavy "Power Fall" and the rambling "Mister Hope" are more robust, dipping into hard-swinging grooves and blue-toned harmonies that evoke the muscular, modal post-bop of players like Woody Shaw and Chick Corea in the late '60s and early '70s. With Head Toward the Center, Kind Folk create a gorgeously dichotomous vibe, one that finds them continually pushing the boundaries of their sound as they remain focused on their collective unity."
—Matt Collar (All Music Guide)
"First convened in 2014, Kind Folk is the cooperative outlet for leader-type musicians in John Raymond (trumpet), Alex LoRe (sax), Noam Wiesenberg (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums). Their 2018 debut Why Not is an album noted by its heady subtleties and group affinity made more impactful by the lack of chordal instruments.
Since then, the project seemed headed toward long-term hiatus but luckily, the four found their way back together as they emerged from the darkest days of virus-induced lockdown. Not long afterwards, their sophomore record Head Towards the Center was made, and Kind Folk hadn’t skipped a beat. Head Towards the Center, much like its predecessor, manages to leave big impressions with small gestures.
“Power Fall” is posited upon a two-note bass riff which Wiesenberg delivers so confidently, Stranahan is able to loosen up his pulse. But but really stands out is how the unit plays so spatially aware, making this feel rendered by a duo rather than a quartet. LoRe and Raymond clearly know that the bass and drums are already doing a lot of work, relieving them of the need to blow hot and instead render their chord progressions with a relaxed demeanor.
On “Mantrois,” the classical refinement is made more so by Wiesenberg’s sawing and harmonizing along with the horns. Wiesenberg starts out in the lead for “Sweet Spot,” followed by turns from LoRe and Raymond and all three play with a just-right tonality that befits the hushed nature of the song.
“Around, Forever” (video above) continues in that formalized mode, except for Wiesenberg’s active bass. His lines turn into backing for LoRe’s circumspect phrasing. “Head Towards The Center” starts off quietly enough but gathers momentum as it progresses, with Stranahan being the main instigator of the tension building.
Kind Folk’s chose only two covers but both are rather revealing about the band. The quietly poignant vulnerability of Elliott Smith is right up this quartet’s alley, and they give “Between The Bars” the nuanced sentiment that the composer probably intended. At the same time, they are plenty capable of handling straight-up hard boppers like Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “Mr. Hope,” putting their own unique stamp on it with the economy by which they carry out the melody; an artful exercise in harmonic efficiency.
The two group improvisations uncovers even more about the band, brief as they are. “Where Am I?” is as graceful as a meticulously arranged piece and “Distant Signal” springs organically from Wiesenberg’s one-note bass riff.
When great talents get together, egos can sometimes get in the way. There are no egos at all involved with Kind Folk, just a cooperative spirit that makes Head Towards the Center truly better than the sum of its parts."
—S. Victor Aaron (May 9, 2022)