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Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Sélébéyone

Karl Ackermann By

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Steve Lehman's critically acclaimed albums have been topping national polls for more than half a decade. It's all the more an achievement when considering Lehman's unique, cerebral and ever-changing approach to artistic creation. His most recent project, Sélébéyone takes its name from this new group that Lehman founded in 2015. It incorporates elements of spectral music—where compositions are influenced by sound waves and mathematics—rap, hip hop, electronics, and of course, jazz. The overall vibe, however, jazz rap/hip hop.

The live marriage of jazz and hip hop or rap (they're not necessarily the same) is not a new one. More than twenty years ago a rapper named Guru went to work with a band that included Branford Marsalis, Lonnie Liston Smith, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers and others. The resulting album, Jazzamatazz, Volume 1 (Chrysalis Records, 1993) cracked the top twenty-five on Billboard's list and spawned three successors. Even before that time Miles Davis tinkered with hip hop beats on his final album, Doo-Bop (Warner Bros., 1992) and Gil Scott-Heron laid even earlier foundations with the jazz oriented backgrounds to his overtly political poetry. What Lehman has done with Sélébéyone takes the entire evolution from West African to points beyond.

Sélébéyone (the group) is cross-cultural and, like Lehman, not pinned down to static musical interests outside of this project. New York's Kyle Austin (aka, HPrizm) had previously been known as "High Priest" when he was a founder of the rap trio Antipop Consortium. That group had made a pioneering effort in jazz rap with Antipop vs. Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear Recordings, 2003). Senegalese native Gaston Bandimic supplies raps in the Wolof language which dominates a number of West African countries. The septet is filled out with the highly visible bassist Drew Gress, drummer Damion Reid, Carlos Homs on piano and keyboards and long-time Lehman collaborator, saxophonist Maciek Lasserre.

The lyrics on Sélébéyone don't shy away from social commentary or spirituality. On the opening "Laamb," HPrizm raps, ...From flooded streets I was brought up/Now in this era facing the ramifications/Of blocks to the occupation/As bars over propaganda/They criminalize the victim.... Translated from Wolof, Ndoye invokes on "Are You In Peace?," ...Wake up mad at everybody, today is hate/Don't ask me what it is, not worth it/ No peace today, it's evil's habit.... Brief tracks such as "Akap" and "Geminou" place a more focused light on the use of electronics, from Reid and Homs, as they intermingle with HPrizm and Ndoye's words. "Cognition" is a perfect fusion of jazz and hip hop beats, leading up to dual raps that are both spatial and transcendent.

Sélébéyone is a Wolof word that roughly translates to a joining point where two elements result in a new and unique element; it's not a new concept for Lehman but this album is cutting-edge in its own right. Lehman's alto and Lasserre's soprano build and disassemble intricate rhythms, serving as acoustic DJs to the spoken word. The latter component adds more direct tension than Lehman typically serves up but that's a good thing as it sets parameters for another new vernacular from a composer who already speaks in tongues. Jazz purists, and even some more exploratory listeners, may have to open their ears a bit wider with Sélébéyone, but it will prove well worth it. Lyrics—with translations—can be found at:

Track Listing: Laamb; Are You In Peace?; Akap; Origine; Cognition; Hybrid; Dualis; Geminou; Bamba.

Personnel: Gaston Bandimic: vocals; HPrizm: vocals; Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Maciek Lasserre: soprano saxophone; Carlos Homs: piano, keyboards; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; Damion Reid: drum set.

Title: Sélébéyone | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Pi Recordings


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