Akwasi Mensah kicking it like Bruce Lee at Purcell Room

This superlative live soundtrack was a highlight of the PRSF/South Bank Centre initiative ‘New Music Biennial’, which presented 20 brand new compositions across a wide range of genres. Bunny Bread’s short film The Dynamics Of Perception, an imaginative burst of neo-noir that referenced the ballet-like finesse of Bruce Lee movies, unfurled a set of startling images for which Mensah provided a richly layered score. Known primarily as a bassist who straddles the borders of jazz, broken beat and electronica, Mensah proved himself a composer-arranger of considerable creative depth in this context.

Furthermore, his ensemble had an impressive pedigree: original Jazz Warriors, tenor saxophonist Ray Carless and pianist Adrian Reid as well as the somewhat underrated trumpeter Kevin Davy were joined by guitar, balaphone, percussion, drums and bass guitar to create an array of glowing timbral colours that contrasted potently with the shadowy, edgy monochrome on screen. Though the core sound was a form of driving Afro-funk that produced an intensely physical sound in precise sync with the bracing rhythmic content of the choreography on celluloid, Mensah also elicited much light and shade from his players, directing them towards passages of understatement and restraint that were a strong counterpoint to the visual stimulus. Ultimately, the music managed to imply the psychological and emotional states of the characters as well as reinforce their eye-catching kinetic energy.

For a project of this nature to work the split second precision of the edited images has to be matched by the cohesion and responsiveness of the stage performers. With that in mind it was hugely impressive to see Mensah conduct without a score and instead lock his eyes on the screen, absorb the stream of information and convey that to his musicians so effectively that Bread’s sharp cuts acted almost as on and offbeats in the various movements of the score. Commissioned by Jazz Re:Freshed, a west London scene where improvised music and other genres speak a common language, this was a vital demonstration of how engrossing can be a focused dialogue between sound and image.    

– Kevin Le Gendre      


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