Haven’t we heard it all before? I know you’re thinking political ads, but the same is often said about music. The response to that question is a local sextet unlike anything you’ve ever listened to before. And if you think you have, just wait five minutes for your mind to change. Or melt.
Of the many things that can be said about Grammy-nominated pianist, composer and teacher Art Lande, one indisputable truth is that the Boulder-based Renaissance man definitely marches to his own beat. The innovative bandleader peels back a few layers into the psyche of improvisational musicians with his project Funko Moderno, a six-person outfit that showcases boundless stylistic reach.
“I think my goal with this band was to actually create a whole different way of playing that had never been done before, and it’s taken quite a while for us to get comfortable with this form in a way that’s very strict yet with a lot of freedom,” Lande says.
Although the band originated with Lande laying down some funky bass lines to play with his son Otis, Funko Moderno uses a combination of composition and improvisational freedom where everyone participates. Papa Lande, a pianist by trade, leads from behind his drum kit.
“It’s kind of crazy. There’s all this intersection. Sometimes we all play one part, and sometimes everybody’s playing different things even at different speeds. It’s that intersection of humor and serious music in a way, with kind of funky, basic rhythms and melodies that when they’re all playing at once don’t sound that basic,” Lande says.
Funko Moderno | Photo by Susan France
“On the one hand it’s real sophisticated. I mean, the music is really challenging modern music. At the same time there’s all of these neat little melodies and rhythms that can be really catchy,” Lande says of the sounds he and his mates bring to the stage. “People can feel that. There’s a difference between people who get together for commerce, doing things to be seen or heard because of money or fame. [With Funko Moderno], the music’s hard, so there’s a lot of devotion in there and you can feel it. It’s really fun to hear a band that really plays well together.”
How would the longtime jazz player and teacher describe the genre of Funko Moderno? By avoiding one label altogether.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It’s not stylized. Really, it’s not particularly jazz other than some of the sounds might sound reminiscent of jazz,” Lande says. “Some of the pieces might sound Middle Eastern or Eastern European. We use reggae beat or all kind of things that intersect internationally. [There are] aromas of all different genres; unable to pin down to one. Italavians bring their own sound.”
Italavia is the backstory concocted by Funko Moderno. This fictitious Italian city-state settled by Yugoslavian immigrants comes with not only its own evolving history, but a musical tradition that is never more than nine days old. It adds another element to the mind-bending nature of a Funko concert.
“There’s a lot of humor. We have a great time concocting these things and writing lyrics and sharing it with the audience,” Lande says.
By a strange twist of fate, nearly all of the inhabitants of Italavia have made their way to Boulder, where Funko Moderno has allowed the public to catch wind of the strange musical breezes emanating from the brain of its tribal leader. Lande has mentored most members of the band through teaching in the area.
“They become my cohorts after a while. I’ve kind of transmitted to them everything that’s possible, and also really stress that they’re in charge of their musical life. We get along great and we have a deep connection that comes from knowing each other,” Lande says.
“Nothing is new under the sun, but everything is fresh because every person is a person. Every gig is unique. It’s getting down into the moment and combining things from an authentic place. Everybody’s playing what they really want to play and tonight is not last night. The room sounds different and the feeling of the audience is different,” Lande says.
Funko Moderno will open their culture to all who show up to Absolute Vinyl Records & Stereo on Nov. 9. Storeowner Doug Gaddy will collect donations for the band, but he says he would understand if you just wanted to show up to support the local scene.
“I’m for the underdog,” Gaddy says of his small venue on Arapahoe Avenue. “We wanted a place in Boulder to stage local bands comfortably, in front of a receptive audience.”
Lande appreciates the integrity of his adopted home. Despite world travel and commercial opportunities elsewhere, Boulder suits the man who never wants to grow up just fine.
“I can go deeper here with the people,” Lande says. “We go deep and we’re friends. There’s more space to explore things in depth instead of just producing a lot of stuff.”
Besides that, there is always the ‘tree falls’ logic of living in land-locked Colorado.
“Nobody cares what we do out here, so we can do what we really want to do,” Lande says.
Funko Moderno performs at Absolute Vinyl Records & Stereo on Friday, Nov. 9. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. 5360 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-955-1519.