Featuring John Raymond (trumpet/flugelhorn), Alex LoRe (alto saxophone),Noam Wiesenberg (bass), Colin Stranahan (drums)
The quartet Kind Folk, named after Kenny Wheeler’s piece from the 1997 ECM release Angel Song, debuted in 2018 with a program of original pieces, improvised duets, and interpretations of Wheeler and Charlie Haden. Titled Why Not and praised by Jazz Journal (UK) for its “consistently intelligent and arresting ideas,” the album was followed by a period of uncertainty. Trumpeter John Raymond took a position as Professor of Jazz Trumpet at Indiana University. Drummer Colin Stranahan relocated (albeit temporarily) to his hometown of Denver during the pandemic. No one could perform live in any case. But together with alto saxophonist Alex LoRe and bassist Noam Wiesenberg, Kind Folk was dedicated to finding a way forward.
Head Towards the Center, the quartet’s sophomore outing, is the result of a band reunion in Wiesenberg’s Brooklyn apartment followed by a one-day studio session with five originals, two free improvisations, and arrangements of “Mr. Hope” by Kurt Rosenwinkel and “Between the Bars” by the late Elliott Smith.
Titled for a piece co-written by Stranahan and LoRe, Head Towards the Center captures how special this group has become for everyone involved. “When we were deciding on a theme,” says Raymond, whose seven-year-old daughter created the artwork for the album, “this title rose to the top quickly. Musically it embodies our individual and collective experiences over the last few years — having our circumstances change dramatically yet trying to stay the course and flourish, much like the melody of this song and eventually the improvisation throughout.”
It’s notable that every member of Kind Folk is a capable and forward-thinking leader in his own right, able to grasp how a group can pool their wide-ranging experience to make a unified statement. That’s not to say that the music happened by itself: it took concentrated effort to learn and rehearse all-new material in two days, so the two fully improvised pieces, “Where Am I?” and “Distant Signal,” made at the end of the recording session, felt distinctly like a release. Raymond plays flugelhorn on both, as he does on his own lilting “Sweet Spot,” Wiesenberg’s moody “Mantrois” and Smith’s “Between the Bars,” a gem from the singer-songwriter’s 1997 classic, Either/Or.
Originally a solo acoustic number with an intimate double-tracked vocal, “Between the Bars” takes on new life here, with the melody being passed between the horns. “I had always wanted to arrange this song for a small group,” says Stranahan. “It calls for sensitivity as the melody dances around the beautiful chords, and it seemed fitting to have the improvisation be a collective effort.”
Stranahan also brings a unique perspective to Rosenwinkel’s “Mr. Hope,” having played it with the eminent guitarist himself. “Kurt is one of my favorite composers,” the drummer says. “I always wanted to work with him, and sure enough the time came. I was lucky to hear him play this tune many times, so I was able to play it from memory and felt like I could instantly inject my personality into it. The tune almost plays itself and is easily adapted into any musical configuration.” Raymond adds: “In some ways it’s hard to imagine a Kurt song without Kurt himself, but this challenged us to arrange it in such a way that fit our instrumentation and approach. This put the song into a totally new context.”
Raymond’s “Power Fall” came about through an effort to create “density or the feeling of power” in an ensemble without a chordal instrument, said the trumpeter. “Around, Forever,” by LoRe, grew out of the altoist’s deep study of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (check out LoRe’s hard copy and digital book of transcriptions, The Goldberg Variations for Saxophone Duets, Trios and Quartets). The alto playing on this track is gripping, a tour de force rooted in a legacy spanning Ornette Coleman to Lee Konitz.
The band name “could be taken literally,” Raymond muses, and it seems that being kind to themselves and each other would be a prerequisite for pulling off a project such as Head Towards the Center. “But I imagine it more abstractly for us,” Raymond concludes. “Maybe it’s the connotations of each of those words. They have a sort of folkloric feeling for me, almost an ethos of lyricism and sincerity.” LoRe concurs: “The name does capture a vibe, ultimately boiling down to the spirit of our band in whatever music we play.”
About the Players
Trumpeter/flugelhornist John Raymond was born and raised in Minnesota. He has released six albums and has performed with Billy Hart, Orrin Evans, Gilad Hekselman, Cory Wong, S. Carey and more. The Professor of Jazz Trumpet at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, he recently published The Jazz Trumpet Routine method book and is the creator and host of the podcast The Trumpet Summit.
Alex LoRe, a native of Florida, has released three albums of his own and appeared as a sideman on over two dozen releases by the likes of Marta Sanchez, Lucas Pino, Yuhan Su, Alex Goodman and others. He teaches at the New School College of Performing Arts in New York.
Noam Wiesenberg was born in Israel and has worked with artists such as Antonio Sanchez, Melissa Aldana, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Lage Lund, Ben Wendel, Chano Dominguez, and Shai Maestro. He released his debut recording Roads Diverge in 2018, and has created critically acclaimed arrangements for Camila Meza’s Nectar Orchestra, Ari Hoenig’s Nonet, and the Metropole Orkest.
A native of Denver, CO, drummer Colin Stranahan has performed in recent years with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Melissa Aldana, Terence Blanchard, Fred Hersch, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Gilad Hekselman, Jonathan Kreisberg and many more, appearing on over 75 albums with artists from around the world.