Hailed by The New York Times as “a state-of-the-art musical thinker with a reputation for sure-footed futurism,” and “a quietly dazzling saxophonist,” Steve Lehman has built a career creating innovative new music that packs a visceral wallop. His most recent album Mise en Abîme (Pi 2014) was the #1 Jazz Album of the Year in the NPR Jazz Critics Poll and in the Los Angeles Times and his previous recording, Travail, Transformation and Flow (Pi 2009) was the #1 Jazz album of the Year in The New York Times.
In 2015, Downbeat Magazine ranked him as the “#1 Rising Star Jazz Musician of the Year” and he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In addition to being one of the most accomplished musicians in jazz, Lehman also received his doctorate in Music Composition from Columbia University in 2012 and his chamber music is regularly performed by the premiere contemporary classical music ensembles around the world.
Lehman’s music has always drawn from disparate sources in distinctive ways, but with Sélébéyone, he takes an unexpected turn: drawing, from modern jazz, Senegalese rap, live electronics, and underground hip-hop, to create a unique form of urban experimentalism.
The project stands apart from almost every other jazz/hip-hop collaboration that has preceded it: this is not an album where live musicians imitate repetitive samples in 4/4 time. Instead, the musical elements – shifting rhythms, electro-acoustic harmonies, and contemporary sound design – are wholly integrated with the lyrical content. Add to that the unique juxtaposition of English and Wolof that permeates the record, and one gets the sense of the development of a whole new musical universe.
And though the music on Sélébéyone may seem like a radical departure from Lehman’s more recent ensemble work, it is actually the product of his long-standing engagement with experimental hip-hop and its surrounding community.
Lehman’s critically-acclaimed octet has released arrangements of seminal hip-hop tracks, like Wu-Tang Clan’s “Living In the World Today” and Camp Lo’s “Luchini.” And his professional ties with Meshell Ndegeocello and other pioneering members of the contemporary R&B community date back to 2004: most recently Lehman was a featured soloist on Ndegeocello and Jason Moran’s 2014 Blue Note release All Rise.