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Album Review

Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Xaybu: The Unseen

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Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone: Xaybu: The Unseen
Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman debuted his Sélébéyone project in 2016 with a self-titled release on the Pi Recordings label. It was nothing short of revolutionary; an amalgamation of jazz improvisation and globalized hip-hop, it was an intrepid declaration. Originally a septet, Sélébéyone returns as a quintet on Xaybu: The Unseen. The five current members are from the original formation, with bassist Drew Gress and pianist Carlos Homs absent from the sophomore outing.

Lehman is a renaissance artist; composer, producer, and scholar; he has a limitless appetite for a broad range of musical expressions. Two of his other Pi Recordings, Mise en Abîme (Pi, 2014) and Travail, Transformation & Flow (Pi, 2009), topped a number of prestigious end-of-year polls. Vocalist/rapper/composer HPrizm aka High Priest (Kyle J. Austin) is not a stranger to the jazz-hip hop hybrid. A founder of the Antipop Consortium he recorded with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Daniel Carter on Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear, 2003). Gaston Bandimic is a native of Dakar, Senegal who later settled in France. His recordings address the everyday Senegalese experiences in his homeland and as a migrant. Paris-based soprano saxophonist Maciek Lasserre heads up his own jazz/rap ensemble, MCK Project, which features Bandimic on vocals. Drummer Damion Reid was mentored by Billy Higgins and has performed or recorded with Liberty Ellman, Jonathan Finlayson, and Rudresh Mahanthappa.

The pared-down Sélébéyone puts more emphasis on the beats and the interaction with the two saxophones. Often, one feels like the music is dancing on a constantly shifting platform. Bandimic raps in Wolof, the primary language of much of Western Africa. A blend of French and Arabic, it creates an interesting contrast with the English language rap of Hprizm. As on Sélébéyone there is a theology of sorts that comes through in unequivocal lyrics. Note Hprizm's evocative lines from "Time is The First Track": "Without drums I had to break out/Of tempo/Of time." Bandimic's line from "Gas Akap" (translated from Wolof) sums up the integrity behind the hip hop component of Xaybu: The Unseen: "My rap is conscious and is a vehicle for honor."

The roots of rap, hip hop, spoken word, and jazz are deep. Scat singing can be considered a distant relative dating to Louis Armstrong's 1926 recording of "Heebie Jeebies" but the modern interpretation is closely linked to Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" in 1970. Tom Waits' gin-soaked Nighthawks at the Diner (Asylum, 1975) featured a bona fide jazz combo backing up Waits' spoken-word debauchery. Miles Davis, Roy Hargrove, Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, and Vijay Iyer have experimented in the hybrid. Kendrick Lamar, the most influential rapper of his generation, sought out saxophonist Kamasi Washington for two of his albums. But it is Lehman and Sélébéyone that have taken two distinctly African American forms of music to new heights. For listeners who aren't encumbered by tradition, Xaybu: The Unseen is an exceptionally rewarding experience.

Track Listing

Time is The First Track; Djibril; Lamina; Gas Akap; Liminal; Gagaku; Poesie I; Poesie II; Go In; Navigation; Dual Ndoxol; Dual HP; Zeraora; Souba; Time is The First Track.

Personnel

Steve Lehman: saxophone, alto; HPrizm aka High Priest: composer/conductor; Gaston Bandimic: voice / vocals; Maciek Lasserre: saxophone; Damion Reid: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

HPrizm: rap vocals.

Album information

Title: Xaybu: The Unseen | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Pi Recordings


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