Tag Archives: Steve Lehman

The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: August 2019


The albums in this month’s column could, on their own, take up a third of the slots in a Year-End Top 10 List. That’s an amazing occurrence, and it proves yet again just how strong jazz and improvised music has been in 2019—because, really, I could’ve led with that statement in any of this year’s columns, and it would have been just as true.

View the Best Jazz on Bandcamp Archives.

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Album of the Day: Steve Lehman, “Sélébéyone”

Few contemporary saxophonists have developed a practice as rigorous and multi-pronged as New Yorker Steve Lehman, a musician whose investment in post-bop is matched by his work as a composer exploring the ideas of Spectralism. There have always been many facets to his game—and his wide-ranging explorations have been marked by a deep understanding of every disparate tradition. On his staggering new album Sélébéyone, he takes on the jagged cadences of Senegalese rap and the murky atmospherics of underground hip-hop with a powerful live band that breathlessly translates electronic production ideas and MPC-derived beats in real-time to mostly acoustic instruments. Jazz and hip-hop have been flatmates for decades, but more often than not, fusions of the two have forced one of the ingredients to be watered down: not so with Sélébéyone.

Anti-Pop Consortium MC HPrizm and Dakar’s Gaston Bandimic, who raps in Wolof, slalom through the complex, stuttering shape-shifting grooves and clipped melodic shards shaped by altoist Lehman and French soprano saxophonist Maciek Lasserre. The horn men blow astringently precise passages that toggle between tightly coiled unison and lockstep counterpoint; their propulsive improvisations are as forceful as the words spit by the rappers. Drummer Damion Reid unleashes an epic performance, dropping heavy beats that constantly change direction, feel, and time signature from bar-to-bar, presenting himself as a human drum machine with a mind of its own—a sound he’s been perfecting since his contributions to the paradigm-shifting 2007 Robert Glasper album In My Element. Double bassist Drew Gress anchors the splintered grooves while keyboardist Carlos Homs alternates between evocative textures, spooky harmony, and stabbing accents. The rappers navigate the tricky rhythms with dazzling fluidity, unleashing cadences and flow that are just as heady and head nodding, while the reedists convey the immediacy of hip-hop while charting alien beatscapes. It sure feels like a game-changer.

—Peter Margasak

Sélébéyone’s Diverse Jazz Ethos

Sélébéyone. Photo by Willie Davis

Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman still remembers his first encounter with alternative rapper-producer High Priest. It came as a result of a 2003 recording that Priest’s partners in Antipop Consortium released with progressive jazz pianist Matthew Shipp. “That was where I got turned on,” Lehman recalls. “So then I went back through the catalog, starting with Tragic Epilogue.”

Over the course of our conversation, Lehman runs through nearly every other project in which High Priest has been involved. “As a solo artist, as HPrizm, as Airborne Audio … he definitely informs the way I think about texture [and] everything. I’m a big fan.” So it was something of a foregone conclusion that the two would eventually end up working together. The result of the collaboration is a new group called Sélébéyone—a Wolof word meaning “intersection”—with Senegalese rapper Gaston Bandimic, saxophonist Maciek Lasserre, drummer Damion Reid, bassist Drew Gress, and keyboardist Carlos Homs. The idea for a new group was born after Lasserre—Lehman’s one-time student—introduced him to Senegal’s vibrant hip-hop scene. Lehman and Priest were impressed with Bandimic’s ability to integrate melodic singing with complex rhyme patterns. From there, group members began trading audio files back and forth online. A grant from the French-American Jazz Exchange allowed the members of Sélébéyone to work in person, rehearsing for their first live performance in May 2015. Priest was introduced to Gaston’s style through this project and, “was just consistently blown away on stage hearing him.”

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