Few things are as life affirming as witnessing a powerful idea or dream come to pass through sheer will of human capacity. Especially if that will and exertion are deployed with a level of apparent virtuosity. The performance of the Sestet led by 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Benjamin Jephta last night at the DSG Hall; marking the first of the bassist’s two showcases at this year’s festival were such an occasion. He has been working towards this beautiful night since the announcement of his award last year. Each of the gigs he played since were often responded to with one recurrent statement: I wonder what he will do in Jazztown? Last night, he led a band that answered with brilliance and promise.
The band featured Sphelelo Mazibuko on drums, Keenan Ahrends on guitar, former Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Kyle Shepherd on piano, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet and Sisonke Xonti on saxophone.
Wyatt, who is obviously the band’s most experienced campaigner was immaculate and commanding, albeit unassuming. His tone and phrases carried a shimmer and refreshing clarity. His occasional use of pedals for effect gave his subtle exchanges with Ahrends’ strings a bright bristling touch. They weaved around each as Xonti’s reed washed over it all like a warm shroud of sound. All the while Shepherd’s right hand picked out colours that exploded along with Mazibuko’s flurries. This is not a rhythm section resigned to creating a bare context for the melodic lines to do their thing. These guys seemed resolved to own the night just the same.
All the new compositions presented were meant to bear testament not only to Jephta’s creative capacities as a writer, but also underscored the complexities of his influences. The church, the streets and global labyrinth of musical heritages all converge into his pallet.
Notable among the tunes is “Gratitude” with a climbing and ascending quality. It’s a master piece of contemporary secular spirituality. It draws on both gospel sensibilities as it does on the vernacular and popular. The music has a lift that draws something ethereal from both the musicians and audiences, turning the night into a kind of festive ritual that celebrates one salient fact about human creative promise: Beauty Matters!