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Family Band

Family Band

by Ian Mann

March 23, 2023


They bring a very contemporary sense of urgency to their music and the standard of both the playing and the writing is excellent throughout.

Family Band

“Family Band”

(Discus Music DISCUS 146CD)

Kim Macari – trumpet, voice, Riley Stone-Lonergan – tenor saxophone, Tom Riviere – double bass, Steve Hanley – drums

The members of Family Band first met when they were studying at Leeds College of Music in 2008, eventually coming together as a band in 2015. The group’s début album “Bring Lulu” appeared in the November of that year and was followed in 2018 by “Board of Origin”, a live recording documented at the 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival.

In its early days the band’s material was composed entirely by Riviere but, as befits its name, the group has since become a more democratic unit and this third, eponymous release finds all of the band members contributing compositions.

I surmise that the band name was chosen partly because of the fact that Macari and Stone-Lonergan are life partners but also as an expression of group solidarity. The band members like to describe themselves as ‘jazz activists’ and there’s a left leaning political commitment behind their largely instrumental music.

The instrumental configuration is the classic ‘chordless’ quartet model of saxophone, trumpet, double bass and drums pioneered by Ornette Coleman. Indeed the group’s début album included a version of the Coleman composition “Latin Genetics”, the only non-original piece to have been recorded by the band.

As with other jazz musicians the individual band members are heavily involved with other projects. In addition to leading her own groups Macari has worked with musicians such as guitarist Anton Hunter and pianist Sam Leak. Ex NYJO member Stone-Lonergan is an integral member of QOW TRIO alongside bassist Eddie Myer and drummer Spike Wells. Steve Hanley is a member of saxophonist Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat quintet and both Hanley and Riviere are part of the trio Treppenwitz, together with pianist Matthew Aplin.

Although it was released in January 2023 the new “Family Band” album was actually recorded at Swan Studios near Doncaster in February 2020 with Tim Thomas at the mixing desk. It represented the last real period of ‘normality’ for the band prior to the pandemic.

The album kicks off with the energetic bustle of Stone-Lonergan’s composition “Bastard Gentlemen”, a joyous introduction to the band with Riviere’s rapid, highly propulsive lines and Hanley’s busy drumming fuelling the rumbustious tenor sax soloing of the composer and the bravura trumpeting of Macari. Stone-Lonergan has deeper roots in the jazz mainstream than his bandmates and there’s a real sense of swing here, alongside the more obvious Coleman influences.

Riviere takes over the writing on “Monty”, a longer piece that unfolds more slowly over the course of its eight and a half minute duration. Sax and trumpet combine effectively as they probe tentatively above the fluid rhythms of bass and drums, the music subsequently gathering momentum as Stone-Lonergan solos, stretching out and exploring more expansively above a quickening bass and drum pulse. The horns briefly coalesce before Macari’s solo, a more subdued but no less absorbing excursion. This is followed by a bass and drum dialogue as Riviere and Hanley begin to assert themselves more, with the composer citing the work of bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones on the Ornette Coleman album “New York is Now!” as a source of inspiration for this piece.

Riviere is also the composer of “Changing Reflection”,  initially a Coleman style threnody that features the rich, dark sound of the composer’s bowed bass, played solo for much of the time, but also given sensitive percussive support from Hanley. The piece gathers momentum with the return of Stone-Lonergan and Macari, the pair growling at each other in a thrilling series of trumpet and tenor exchanges above the free-wheeling rhythms of bass and drums.

Macari’s “Deft But Bereft”  features a sample sourced from a 1950s Cold War US radio broadcast set among the band’s ironic musical commentary, a mix of wonky trumpet voluntaries, belligerent tenor sax and military rhythms. It’s 21st century protest music set to a 1950s soundtrack and asks “just how much has changed?”, particularly with the war in Ukraine still raging on at the time of the album release. Macari’s trumpet playing plus her political stance and musical militancy have evoked comparisons with the late, great Jaimie Branch, and understandably so. Meanwhile listeners of a certain age, such as myself, may be tempted to think of this piece as a grown up, and far more musical, version of Hawkwind’s “Sonic Attack”, itself inspired by those Cold War broadcasts.

Stone-Lonergan takes up the compositional reins once more for “Mistake Not”, which fairly tumbles out of the speakers with the composer’s hard edged tenor soloing urgently above the frantic bass and drum rhythms.  Macari’s feature sees the trumpeter allowing herself more space, but her solo is still both powerful and eloquent.

Riviere’s “The New Music Of The Spirits” has a prayer like quality that suggests that its roots are in the spiritual jazz of the 1960s. Unaccompanied horn motifs recall church music while Macari plays a mournful trumpet solo above a gently rumbling groove featuring the sounds of mallets on toms. Stone-Lonergan’s solo is more forceful, evoking memories of Dewey Redman and John Coltrane and set among a rolling groove featuring the clatter of Hanley’s sticks on rims.

The album concludes with a second spoken word piece with Hanley’s music combined with Macari’s poetry. Fife born Macari delivers her words in a soft Scottish accent but her message is stark and pertinent as she regrets the passivity of the people in the face of war, global corruption and impending ecological disaster. It’s not just a British problem, it’s one that extends to the whole of the ‘developed’ world and I’m as guilty as anybody. The music is suitably sombre and frames the message perfectly.

The music on “Family Band” is indebted to Ornette Coleman and to many other jazz greats, with Charles Mingus and Henry Threadgill among others mentioned as influences. Family Band don’t seek to disguise this but they bring a very contemporary sense of urgency to their music and the standard of both the playing and the writing is excellent throughout.

I’m not always a fan of spoken word items on recordings but it’s the two verbal pieces that help to make this album so distinctive and which help to put the power of the instrumental pieces into perspective. Globally things seem to have got a lot worse since the album was recorded so its spirit of rebellion is now even more relevant than ever.

A closing aside, is the band’s decision to name their third album after themselves a reference / homage to the politically informed 1970s rockers the Edgar Broughton Band who also waited until their third recording to name an album after themselves? Probably not, but you never know.


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