LEO APPLEYARD QUINTET
SATURDAY 13 SEPTEMBER 2014
Ian Mann enjoys a performance by guitarist and composer Leo Appleyard and takes a look at his forthcoming album "Pembroke Road".
The following review can be found on the Jazzmann website
Following the summer break the 2014/15 jazz season at The Hive curated by Shrewsbury Jazz Network got off to a great start with this performance by the young guitarist and composer Leo Appleyard and his quintet.
Appleyard is currently touring the UK in support of his début album “Pembroke Road” which will be officially released on November 10th 2014 on the F-ire Presents label (it’s already available at gigs) with a launch gig scheduled at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival.
Recorded in August 2013 “Pembroke Road” features a core quartet of Appleyard on guitar, Duncan Eagles on tenor sax, Max Luthert on double bass and Eric Ford at the drums. Eagle eyed (pun intended) readers will note that this is essentially Appleyard plus the group Partikel, although the music, almost all of it composed by Appleyard, sounds very different to that of Eagles’ exciting trio.
The album also features a guest appearance by Neil Yates on trumpet and flugelhorn whose playing graces three tracks. Yates has subsequently become a more integrated member of the band which can now be described as a fully functioning quintet and he was present this evening alongside Appleyard, Eagles and Ford. Luthert was absent, performing at a festival with singer Zara McFarlane, and his place was taken by Daniel Casimir who did a brilliant job in his stead. This was perhaps not so surprising, Appleyard and Casimir studied together on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire before moving to London and have played together many times over the years. Nonetheless much of this material was new to Casimir and he dealt with it with considerable aplomb, leading Appleyard to praise the bassist’s sight reading skills.
Tonight’s show was a particularly pleasing performance in that it exceeded my expectations in a number of respects. I saw the quintet at Pizza Express in November 2013 as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival but their playing at that time was perhaps a little too formal and tentative, good as it undoubtedly was, with Yates giving the impression that he was still easing himself into the band.
Nearly a year on and things sound very different, tonight there was a sense that the material is now fully played in and that the chemistry between the performers has moved up to another level. Appleyard has played with the Partikel axis for years but there’s now the sense that Yates is no longer just a “guest” but an essential part of the band. The solos were more unfettered and wide ranging, the rhythms more hard driving and the whole experience generally more exciting and “full on”.
Equally satisfying was the size of the audience. When I spoke to SJN’s Hilary Hannaford during the week leading up to the gig she admitted that ticket sales had been slow but thanks to a concerted promotional campaign by the SJN team the turn out on the night was excellent with Appleyard and his colleagues praising the committee’s efforts. The knowledgeable and attentive crowd gave the quintet a great reception and it’s easy to see why the Hive is becoming a favourite venue for many of our jazz musicians.
And so on to the music which included all the tunes from “Pembroke Road”, two newer, as yet unrecorded Appleyard pieces plus a couple of standards. The quintet opened with the swinging, melodic “The Cleaver”, a good introduction to the delicate strengths of the band with Appleyard taking the first solo. As I have mentioned in previous reviews Appleyard favours a clean, traditional jazz guitar sound with little recourse to contemporary electronic effects.
His style has a cool and fluid elegance which has won him the approval of such esteemed guitarists as Phil Robson (his former tutor) and John Etheridge. One of the things I like about this band is the contrasting styles of the musicians with Appleyard’s fluent but undemonstrative guitar offset by Eagles’ robust, powerful but no less eloquent tenor.
Meanwhile Yates has developed a kind of “whispering” technique on trumpet and flugel that was inspired by the work of flute and whistle players from the world of Irish traditional music. His often soft and breathy tones contrasted in turn with Ford’s busy, propulsive drumming which drew on several world music styles. However, with the help of bassist Casimir these four disparate and distinctive voices came together to create a strong group identity and to produce music that consistently delighted the Shrewsbury crowd.
The as yet unrecorded “Quiet Nights” belied its title as it opened with a powerful, locked in bass and drum groove above which Appleyard sprinkled sparse clusters of guitar notes that glistened like diamonds. After the horns had sketched the theme Eagles took off on a characteristic tenor solo, carefully constructed and gradually building in intensity, urged on by the dynamic drumming of Ford. But then that element of contrast again with a gentler solo from Yates on trumpet that incorporated a delightful duet with Appleyard. The leader’s own solo saw the group switching into guitar trio mode as Appleyard subtly built up a tension that was only released via Ford’s spectacular drum feature above a pattern of repeated horn lines. Great stuff.
From the album came “Walsio”, the Welsh word for a “waltz”, the title an acknowledgement that the album was recorded at a remote location in Wales. As on disc the piece was introduced by a passage of solo double bass, Casimir’s impressive opening winning the approval of the crowd. With Ford on brushes the piece exhibited a gentle, breezy lyricism with solos from Appleyard on guitar, Yates on trumpet and Eagles on tenor, the latter gradually adapting a more assertive approach as the tune developed. Appleyard has said of the piece “I wanted to write something singable, childlike but with the harmony shifting and unchanging underneath it. I hope there’s some of Gilad Heskelman in there too – he’s such a fluent improviser”.
The album also boasts a remarkable version of the song “I Remember You” written by Victor Schertzinger. Appleyard’s radical interpretation saw him deploying effects for the first time as he made distinctive use of sustain on an arrangement that the guitarist described casually as being “different to the norm”. He wasn’t kidding - with its slowed down melody and ghostly sounding guitar the piece was hauntingly effective. Frank Ifield it most emphatically was not.
Appleyard again- “It’s a standard, but I wanted to enjoy the tune rather than show off the musicians on it, so it’s not head-solo-head. Today’s audience is moving away from standards and since I love playing standards I wanted to play one in a different way; rubato, lots of effects, no soloing and a quiet controlled ending”.
Although included mid set here it forms an effective coda to the “Pembroke Road” album.
The first set concluded with a hard driving version of the album track “Anywhere South”, an Appleyard tune that draws equal inspiration from John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”and from the methods of New York based guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg. This fiercely swinging piece was further enlivened by dazzling solos from Appleyard, Eagles and Yates, the latter switching to flugel for his solo and demonstrating an awesome agility and technical facility on the instrument. This switching between trumpet and flugel during the course of a single tune was a characteristic of Yates’ playing throughout the set.
Yates sat out the first piece of the second half as “The Homeless Wizard” was delivered by the quartet, the core unit on the “Pembroke Road” recording. The opening item on the record this tune is dedicated to another of Appleyard’s former guitar tutors, Jez Franks. Introduced by a passage of solo guitar and also including a well crafted solo from Eagles the piece developed into a feature for the excellent Ford, an increasingly influential component of the quintet.
“Mass” was the first piece that Appleyard wrote specifically for Yates and tonight’s version saw the older man switching between flugel and trumpet on a piece with a strong narrative arc that fulfilled the composer’s ambitions to deliver a piece with a discernible cinematic quality.
The title “Pembroke Road” refers to an unclassified track in rural Pembrokeshire that leads to the studio of Owain Fleetwood-Jenkins where the album was recorded. Engineered to a high standard by Fleetwood-Jenkins and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid in New York the sound on the album is excellent throughout and also boasts a strong visual image thanks to the artwork of Alban Low.
The title track is one of the three to feature the playing of Yates and he impressed here as he moved between trumpet and flugel and soloing on the latter. Eagles and Appleyard also produced effective solos and tonight’s performance also included a feature for drummer Ford as the music took on additional energy in a live context.
“Mantra” represented the first true ballad of the evening with Appleyard soloing above Ford’s delicately brushed grooves and with Eagles demonstrating his gentler side on tenor. However there was still room for humour as Casimir’s hugely dexterous bass solo developed into a series of subtly amusing exchanges with Ford. Appleyard explains the title thus; “my musical mantra is combining different elements, making them into one”, a quote that defines both his music and his group very appropriately.
A second well programmed set ended with the new piece “Higher Silence” which announced its presence with a series of coruscating horn choruses lashed on by Ford’s powerful drums. The subsequent energetic grooves fuelled Appleyard’s hottest soloing of the night in a feature that Phil Robson himself might have been proud of.
Eagles and Yates matched him on tenor and flugel respectively as the evening concluded on a high energy note that left a delighted Shrewsbury audience wanting more. With nothing obviously prepared the quintet elected for a good natured romp through the Sonny Rollins classic “Tenor Madness” with features for all five musicians, Yates on flugel going first followed by Appleyard and Eagles (natch) on tenor. Yates made another brief cameo before handing on to Casimir before Appleyard and the two horns exchanged ideas with drummer Ford.
I was highly impressed by this performance from Leo Appleyard and his quintet. The album is a bit of a slow burner and it can take a while to appreciate its many virtues and subtleties. However on this evidence the group’s live performances have taken on a fresh energy all of their own and I’d recommend that anybody who might be reading this to get out and see this band on tour. There are still plenty of dates to come and the remaining performances are listed below. Tonight’s gig was a triumph for both Leo Appleyard and for Shrewsbury Jazz Network. Well done to all concerned.