Steve Lehman pushes the envelope bringing together jazz, electronica, and rap

Sometimes, the quirkiest combination can work surprisingly well. Donald enjoys Steve Lehman's unusual ensemble of jazz, eletronica, and rap. – Artblog Editor

HPrizm, Steve Lehman, Gaston Bamar Ndoye Maciek Lasserre
HPrizm, Steve Lehman, Gaston Bamar Ndoye and Maciek Lasserre (from left); courtesy of Willie Davis.

Ars Nova Workshop can be relied on to bring new music to Philadelphia audiences. Steve Lehman’s Sélébéyone, presented on March 24 at the Painted Bride Art Center, was no exception. A composer and alto-saxophonist, Lehman has received a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2014 Doris Duke Artist Award, and has worked with major national and international artists like Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, and Meshell Ndegeocello. For this performance, Lehman brought together an innovative combination of jazz, hip-hop, rap, and electronica whose disparate parts worked together surprisingly well.

An unlikely ensemble of talent

Lehman’s band consisted of Gaston Bandimic (wolof rap), HPrizm (rap), Maciek Lasserre (soprano saxophone, composition, live electronics), Carlos Homs (keyboards), Chris Tordini (electric bass), and Damion Reid (drums). The performance opened with “Laamb,” brought to life with slick piano arpeggios, samples, and raps from Bandimic and HPrizm. This line from HPrizm particularly stuck with me: “Now that the mask is off, the masquerade is over.” To me, this suggested the consequences of revealing your true self to the public.

Sélébéyone Album Cover
Striking album cover of Sélébéyone; courtesy of Pi Recordings.

Bandimic and HPrizm’s individual styles made for a nice contrast. HPrizm had a very introspective way of speaking from the heart about the injustices that have had a lasting effect on him and those around him. Bandimic, on the other hand, nearly stole the show every time he rapped because of his utterly ferocious delivery and seemingly innate ability to jump from one rhythmic cadence to another. In addition, HPrizm had an eccentric way of moving his body in rhythm to the music while Bandimic was completely in his zone. One interesting disconnect was HPrizm being so far across the other side of the stage (compared to his band mates) that he seemed to be on his own stage altogether.


Descending saxophone scales over a hip hop beat characterized “Are You In Peace?” Lehman and Bandimic traded off solo parts as each one created a sense of conflict with the sampled poetry in the background that asks this very question throughout the duration of the song. The closing track was the intense “Bamba,” densely colored with relentless saxophone runs, complex piano chords, and Bandimic’s thrilling rapping.

Lehman’s humor and inventiveness charm

Lehman’s playing had a real sense of humor and he seemed to be able to grab from a bag of inventive tricks that kept coming. Lehman and the band used an array of sound effects, including drones and flickered claps. Even when Lehman and his group took a rare break to address the audience, his musical charm transferred over into his personality. He even joked about a certain wish when he returned to his Philadelphia Marriott hotel: “fingers crossed for sliders.”

Like Kamasi Washington’s 2015 album The Epic, Lehman’s Sélébéyone project pushes the envelope of jazz. This is especially true in his fusion of many musical languages seamlessly into one sound. Whether it is modern jazz, underground hip-hop, Senegalese rap or live electronics–it’s a fusion that doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does satisfy the adventurous music lover.


To follow what Steve Lehman does next, visit his website. For more information on the remainder of Ars Nova Workshop’s season, visit them here.