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The New Cool: Les Jeux Sont Funk finds inspiration in the soul of Spike Lee

Cover artwork by Chris Ball
The film maker's iconic eyewear decorate the new single from Italy's Les Jeux Sont Funk.

The New Cool turns our attention to modern jazz-funk from Italy this week, as Les Jeux Sont Funk unveils its new digital single, "Spike Lee," from Color Red Music. Like the famous director-actor-screenwriter, it's soulful and cinematic, and also a new direction for the band.Les Jeux Sont Funk translates roughly to "Games of Funk." It's also a nod to the mid-'40s Jean-Paul Sartre screenplay and eventual filmLes Jeux Sont Faits (aka The Chips Are Down).

In mountainous Northern Italy, DJ-composer-producer-guitarist Carlo Nardi and composer-bassist Michele Bazzanella (who met in the funk ensemble Tabasco in the late '90s) formed the original Les Jeux Sont Funk. Their 2016 debut album, Erasing Rock, used programmed drums and fused funk and electronic music, with horns guesting on just a single song.

The new "Spike Lee" single expands the group with live drums, acoustic piano and three horn players. The cinematic angle ties the two eras of Les Jeux Sont Funk together, as both Nardi and Bazzanella have worked on numerous film scoring projects for a variety of European films in recent years.

Their view of funk from the perspective of film music led to a natural next step for the band. They also stay true to the power of the groove, "always faithful to the bassline" is their motto. Les Jeux Sont Funk pledge that "the music we play shall be the funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk."

A thick bass and drums groove opens "Spike Lee" into a repeated piano riff augmented by Nardi on both guitar and electric keyboard. It's a modern but vintage feel that evokes a gritty, urban atmosphere with punchy horns and a bouncy bridge that takes the song in and out of the long shadows of a big city.

A brief vocal sample closes out the fun, a strange quote from an academic talking about his fears of "the degeneracy of capitalism and the possibility of it becoming a force destructive." This listener is reminded that Spike Lee's films have always explored political issues of race and social inequality. It's a bit out of place, maybe, but also points to Les Jeux Sont Funk's expertise in cinematic sounds.

The five years that have passed since Erasing Rock hint that "Spike Lee" may soon have friends on a second full-length album. Stay connected to The New Cool as we follow Les Jeux Sont Funk's adventures and (hopefully) eventual touring on this side of the Atlantic.

Paraphrasing jazz giant Thelonious Monk, Les Jeux Sont Funk acknowledges their connection to the magnificent imperfection of lively jazz improvisation, saying, "We hope this time we've made the right mistakes." They'll sound great Friday night on the New Cool.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.