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"Without music, life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Steve Lehman

An award-winning saxophonist and composer, Lehman – who holds a doctorate in composition from Columbia University – is widely celebrated for his “sure-footed futurism” (New York Times) in the domains of modern jazz and contemporary classical music. Here, he showcases yet another side of his astonishing creativity in producing and overseeing nearly every aspect of Xaybu. The project makes frequent use of advanced compositional techniques and cutting-edge improvisation: Each aspect of Lehman’s musical identity is an inextricable part of this artistic statement. Pulling this off requires enormous trust and commitment among the musicians, which is only possible through Lehman’s longstanding musical relationship with the members of the group. HPrizm (a.k.a. High Priest), a legend of New York’s underground hip-hop scene and a founding member of Antipop Consortium has been one of Lehman's closest collaborators for almost two decades. Saxophonist Maciek Lasserre, began studying with Lehman in 2005 and introduced him to the burgeoning Senegalese hip-hop scene in 2010. Lasserre later urged Lehman to include Gaston Bandimic – one of Senegal’s most distinctive young rap stars – as a founding member of Sélébéyone. Drummer Damion Reid has also been an integral member of Lehman’s ensembles since 2006. His innovative drum set adaptations of J-Dilla beats on Robert Glasper’s In My Element (2007), are often cited as the beginning of the “drum set as MPC” wave amongst the current generation of young drummers. True to form, Reid’s playing on Xaybu is remarkably adept at moving back and forth between electronic and acoustic textures – check out his work with brushes at the beginning of “Dual Ndoxol.” Pieces like “Gagaku,” “Zeraora,” and “Gas Akap” highlight Reid’s improvised interactions with both saxophonists in a series of explosive duets.
Tracks like “Djibirl” and “Lamina” feature unconventional sonic landscapes that throw HPrizm and Bandimic’s searing lyricism into relief. Both integrate contemporary notions of Islamic mysticism into their rhyme schemes, and frequently mine profound connections between spirituality and artistic practices. On “Liminal” they calmly navigate a meticulously-crafted quagmire of polyrhythms and Lehman’s characteristic razor-sharp saxophone lines. Percussive accents drift in and out of time, ebbing and flowing one moment, and snapping into the grid the next. On “Souba,” Lehman’s experience in the contemporary classical music realm comes to the fore, with the subtle orchestration of harp, strings, flutes, and percussion, deftly shadowing the rhythmic nuance of Gaston’s rapid-fire verses.
Lehman reflects on the evolution of Sélébéyone: “When we first came together in 2016, I think we really had to work hard to see if this thing could even work, not just in terms of finding a way to perform together on stage, but even the artistic viability of it all. But, this time around, it really felt like we already know how to do this and we know what we’re about. And for that reason, there was very little discussion about how we were going to bring the second record to life. And even the guiding principle of xaybu/al-Ghaib emerged almost on its own. That fascination with the invisible, the imperceptible, the kind of concealed elements of spirituality and creativity is what really ties us all together. And I think this album kind of represents that on-going search for music that we haven’t heard before and that doesn’t sound like anything else.”

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Matt Brewer