WHAT BETTER ENDORSEMENT of a debut album than the encouraging words of jazz guitar legend John Etheridge: “Imaginative and beautifully crafted compositions and performance with a strong emphasis on great sound quality.”
Currently in his mid-twenties, London-born electric guitarist, composer and sound engineer Leo Appleyard has already enjoyed an active and varied start to his career, frequently appearing at major UK and international venues and festivals. Now, recording with long-time colleagues and mentors Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (bass) and Eric Ford (drums) – trio Partikel in another guise – and guest Neil Yates (trumpet, flugelhorn), Appleyard has created a bustling sequence of originals for quartet/quintet which genuinely capture the imagination. He has written specifically with these musicians in mind (judiciously employing echoes/effects) in the knowledge that the band’s collective understanding and affinity might produce improvisatory fireworks – and it’s not long (track 3, to be precise) before the full excitement and character of this set is emphatically ignited.
The leader’s command of both chordal and solo dexterity (think Jez Franks, Kristian Borring) is introduced in curtain-raiser The Homeless Wizard, sharing unison lines with tenorist Eagles as well as duelling in improvisation. Appleyard isn’t afraid to switch tempi and mood (one of the joys of his writing), and Eric Ford’s solid, bright percussion bolsters the snappier sections. Trumpeter Neil Yates augments the line-up in Mass, its swooning, echoic horns gliding high above expectant, cinematic bass-and-drums impetus; and The Cleaver excellently showcases the accomplished soloing creativity of both Appleyard and Yates, the swinging verve of this extended piece becoming increasingly infectious, including an effective udu touch from Ford.
Anywhere South sparkles confidently – a real winner of a quartet number which, again, indicates Appleyard’s compositional maturity, tempering its high energy with brief reflections (walk into a jazz bar with this at full tilt, and you’d be hooked); guitar soloing here is exceptional, both in terms of pace and inventiveness. The contrasting, subtle blues tranquillity of Mantra is tangible, Eagles’ gorgeously mellow tenor weaving lazily in and out of exquisitely-coloured guitar chords; and title number Pembroke Road (a reference to the tucked-away Welsh studio which gave birth to this recording) is an assured full quintet episode, gleaming with individual extemporisation and radiating an openness which perhaps reflects the influence of that rural Pembrokeshire landscape.
The pliant strings of bassist Max Luthert announce Walsio, a breezy, carefree gambol with the occasional, intriguing hint of reservation. Appleyard’s desire for an initial theme of childlike simplicity is evident, though the quartet soon enhances this with pleasing rhythmic and harmonic divergence. Familiar Victor Schertzinger standard I Remember You closes the set – couched in soft watercolour impressionism, its miniature status certainly creates the desire for more.
Partisans guitar supremo (and former tutor) Phil Robson concisely sums up Appleyard’s aptitude and future potential: “Leo is a fab guitarist and composer, definitely a real natural! This debut CD should firmly establish him as a new voice on the scene.” On the strength of these performances, it’s easy to concur.
Leo Appleyard guitar
Duncan Eagles tenor sax
Max Luthert bass
Eric Ford drums/percussion
Neil Yates trumpet/flugelhorn
F-IRE – F-IRECD 75 (2014)