Benjamin Jephta’s music is remarkable. The audience at his sold-out performance at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival appeared to agree, as they physically responded to every note change and fresh beat. His art is one that transports you, taking you on a visceral, vibrant journey.
Jephta has been on a journey of his own. The National Arts Festival has had the privilege of witnessing his growth, from his days of being a part of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival, to now being awarded the 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz. His sound has evolved from the easy-going bass flow of his 2015 debut album Homecoming, maturing into a more complex acoustic brew.
Jephta made his name composing music that embraced a classic jazz sound, often incorporating the traditional resolution of harmonies and big, open-ended chords. However, this has changed quite marvelously in recent times.
It’s an evolution registered in the ecstatic response of bubbly young girls screaming in appreciation before his set started, and whooping applause whenever he touched his bass strings. There is something in his effortlessly smooth, yet muscular melodic jazz that speaks directly to the hearts of the millenial generation.
It isn’t just his “smile” and “quiet flash of teeth” that creates such signature melodies either. It’s his ability to allow his sestet of Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Sphelelo Mazibuko (drums), Sisonke Xonti (saxophone), Keenan Ahrends (guitar), and Kyle Shepherd (piano) to explore the emotional complexities of his compositions on their own terms. On songs such as “Logician” and “Gratitude” the band moves seamlessly between smooth and subtle, and outrageously flirtatious interaction with the audience.
Jephta is currently working on a new album, The Evolution of an Undefined. Let’s hope he keeps on evolving.
Catch Jephta’s Akoustik Elektrik performance on 7 July at 7.30pm at DSG Hall.
By Kimara Singh