Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Ornette, Or Not

Here are two  bands, each peopled by musicians who all have their own ensembles and whose sonic palette is influenced by that of the Ornette Coleman quartet of the late 1950s-early 1960s that recorded for Atlantic Records. The group featured Ornette (alto saxophone), Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Charlie Haden (acoustic bass), and either Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell on drums.  

Kind Folk features (from left to right) Colin Stranahan (drums), John Raymond (trumpet, flugelhorn), Noam Weisenberg (bass), and Alex LoRe (alto saxophone). The quartet takes its name from a Kenny Wheeler piece and his spirit certainly can heard throughout their 2018 debut "Why Not" (Fresh Sound New Talent). In June of 2021, the group reconvened, each member bringing in new material. Stranahan, having worked with guitarist/pianist Kurt Rosenwinkel, suggested to his compatriots one of his tunes ("Mr. Hope") as well as bringing in an arrangement of Elliot Smith's "Between the Bars". Perhaps it was the time in lockdown and all the lost gigs (plus the worries of surviving the pandemic) but there is an extra urgency to this music.

"Head Towards The Center" (FSNT Records) is the album's name and also the final track.  The nine-song program opens with a group improvisation, "Where Am I", a veritable sonic and physical centering piece that introduces listeners to the quartet's leanings towards melody.   The bassist strums the band in on Raymond's 'Power Fall", a piece that reminds this listener of the music of Booker Little (1938-1961). LoRe's solo rises out of the unison theme and he partakes in an exciting push/pull with the bass drums.  Raymond hovers in the background until he steps into his spirited, crisp-toned, exploration of ideas.  He switches to flugelhorn for his other tune "Sweet Spot".  The bassist introduces the melody while the brass and alto murmur in the background.  One hears a tinge of Lee Konitz in the clear-tones of the alto sax lines. There's a hint of melancholy in the flugelhorn solo that picks up intensity as it rolls forward.

LoRe, Weisenberg, and Stranahan dance "Mr. Hope" in with Raymond joining on the last part of the theme. The song really swings with the fast-paced waking bass line and the drummer's hearty swing.  More strummed bass chords followed by a slow bass melody opens the Smith track, a deliberate, sweet, blues-soaked ballad. The combination of soft alto sax lines with Raymond's emotional flugelhorn phrases in the solo section is a highlight of the program, especially when Stranahan responds to their growing urgency.

As I wrote above, the title track closes the album. The throbbing floor drums beneath the intertwined reed and brass opens the song in a somber fashion. As the music moves forward, the contrapuntal lines pick up intensity, freeing up the drummer while the bass holds down the bottom.  LoRe and Raymond continue to feed off each other until a drum solo over strummed bass chords brings the music to a close.

 "Head Towards the Center" is an album built around the love of music and melody, the excitement of exploration and interaction, and the need to push away the darkness of daily life. Kind Folk does listeners a kindness by playing with integrity and passion, not settling for easy solutions. Give them a good listen!

For more information, go to

Here's the quartet's version of Elliot Smith's "Between the Bars":

Way North, the collaboration of three Canadians––tenor saxophonist Petr Cancura, trumpeter Rebecca Hennessey, and bassist Michael Herring––with American drummer/percussionist Richie Barshay came together in 2014 (same year as Kind Folk above) through their love of music.  There's a New Orleans-inspired looseness to their music but don't get the idea they are lazy. They like melody, harmony, danceable rhythms, mixing it all together in a delightful gumbo.

"New Dreams, Old Stories" (Roots 2Boots Recordings) is the quartet's third album and continues their adventures into jazz, blues, funk, and more. The title of the album is a nod to Old & New Dreams, the quartet that featured saxophonist Dewey Redman, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, and Charlie Haden (all alumni of Ornette Coleman's ensembles). Bassist Herring, in fact, penned the ballad "If Charlie Haden Couldn't Write a Song to Bring World Peace , What Hope is There for Me?", the lovely ballad right in the middle of the 12-song program. Outside of that, much of this music will keep you tapping your feet.  The album opens with Ms. Hennessey's "Play"––listeners  can ravel in the playful melody, in the delightful dance of the rhythm section, and in the sweet solos.  The tempo seems to be doubled on Cancuras's "I'm Here To Stay" with Barshay's thundering drums pushing Herring into a "running" bass line.  

Several tracks include group vocals including the bluesy ballad "Come Over to Our House". Composed by Herring, there are short vocal refrains wrapped around the soulful tenor sax solo, the sweet trumpet spot, and a sparkling bass solo.  Ms. Hennessey's "Dr. Good" has a raucous New Orleans feel, a snappy vocal chorus, a growling tenor sax spot, a clarion call from the trumpet, stomping drums, and a thick bass line.

Drummer Barshay, who now teaches in Boston and also performs with The Klezmatics, offers up the sprightly Venezuelan traditional "Pajarillo Verde", replete with delightful rhythm changes, splendid bass work, and short but pithy solos all around.  Barshay also arranged Jackie McLean's "Dig" for the quartet––it's a playful romp that features powerful solos and on-the-dime tempo changes. 

"New Dreams, Old Stories" closes with the lilting ballad/lullaby "When You Say Goodnight to Me"––composed by Ms. Hennessy and Herring, the music feels likes a hymn and, at the same time, a love song. Sweet and satisfying, it's just the right song to finish a program that is so inviting, so much fun, and so well-played.  Way North is not about technique, it's about how one can have a good time in the midst of a crazy world creating music from the heart and soul. Enjoy!!

For more information, go to  To hear more of the album, check out the band's other two albums, and to purchase any or all of them, go to

Here's the title track:

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