Many things have changed since Kind Folk formed in 2014 and launched on record with 2018’s Why Not, but the collective resolve of this quartet’s membership—alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, trumpeter/flugelhornist John Raymond, bassist Noam Wiesenberg, and drummer Colin Stranahan—isn’t one of them. Intent on continuing and developing their work despite being scattered to the winds by life and universal uncertainty, these musicians made their way back to each other and, during a brief reunion in June of 2021, entered a New York studio to record this sophomore set.
As if to encapsulate personal and global circumstances, the sounds of disquiet and expectancy are artfully wedded on quick-passing opener “Where Am I?” One of two improvised miniatures recorded at session’s end, the performance speaks volumes about where things stand. Raymond’s “Power Fall” steps off in a different direction, drawing on a conspiratorial concept surrounding strength. Wiesenberg’s “Mantrois,” dialing things down, molds mystery into magic. And LoRe’s “Around, Forever,” partly inspired by the saxophonist’s studies of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, thrills in riding to and fro across the continuum of creative expression.
Though original music remains the focus on Head Towards the Center, the album’s two recontextualized covers feel right at home in the mix. Kurt Rosenwinkel’s “Mr. Hope,” with Stranahan in fine swinging form, and an absorbing take on singer/songwriter Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars,” placing achingly melodic horns at the fore, carry many of the same signatures as both the aforementioned material and the closing stretch, which comprises the intrigue-infused vignette “Distant Signal,” Raymond’s tuneful “Sweet Spot,” and LoRe and Stranahan’s spellbinding title track. While it has clearly become far more difficult for Kind Folk to assemble, this music asserts that it’s now easier for the group to tap into the expressive substance behind its cooperative identity.