May 19, 2020 10:56 AM
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Not so long ago, Huntertones was the hottest instrumental group in Columbus, Ohio, where sousaphonist and trumpeter Jon Lampley, trombonist-beatboxer Chris Ott and saxophonist Dan White founded the group after meeting in an Art Blakey Ensemble class at The Ohio State University.
In 2014, the three friends and several bandmates abandoned their big-fish-in-a-small-pond status for the high-rent environs of Brooklyn. Their courage and confidence have paid off. Displaying admirable levels of effort and commitment, each individual member has established a viable career in New York while maintaining a role in Huntertones, which has created its own niche.
That band’s third release, Passport, reflects the impact of its international travels on a collective aesthetic. Since 2016, Huntertones has made four tours of South America, Africa and Europe via the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program. Augmented by Joshua Hill on electric guitar, Adam DeAscentis on electric bass and John Hubbell on drum set, along with Snarky Puppy keyboardist Justin Stanton and percussionist Keita Ogawa, the group offers nine originals and a traditional song, “Hondo,” sung by Hope Masike. The band met the vocalist during a Zimbabwe residency that inspired Lampley’s composition “Bird Song,” featuring his fiery trumpet declamation and White’s vocalized tenor solo.
That sojourn also brought them to Togo, which inspired White to compose a highlife-meets-funk tune named after the country. Whatever the repertoire’s provenance, Huntertones’ intricate charts and kinetic beat language demand high instrumental facility.
The three co-founders are in the spotlight for Ott’s “Fergal’s Tune” (featuring guest fiddler-mandolinist Fergal Scahill from the group We Banjo 3), a stomping reel propelled by the composer’s beatboxing and Lampley’s slithery sousaphone grooves intertwined with White’s tenor.
“The cell phones come out and people start recording when we do that [song] at shows,” White said, referring to concert segments when he, Ott and Lampley step out front for solos and unison work. “That’s the rope that ties in new audiences who don’t hear much instrumental music.”
The band encounters new audiences frequently, with much of 2018 devoted to touring.
“We benefited from developing in Ohio around indie rock and hip-hop bands,” said Lampley, who nurtured his protean chops in OSU’s marching band, as did Ott. (He also has played with the rock group O.A.R. since 2011, and, when not traveling, plays with Jon Batiste & Stay Human on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.) “That allowed us to come together as different personalities. We’ve become very comfortable as a band, where you might hear a little Snarky Puppy, or Led Zeppelin, or the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, or gospel music, or swinging jazz.”
“We’ve played a funk festival in a bullring in Spain from 4 in the morning until the sun came up, and at Le Duc des Lombards, the fancy jazz club in Paris, on the same tour,” Ott added.
Presenting repertoire as social music has served the band well throughout its global journeys. “We were brought over as a good representation of the diversity of American music,” White said. “Out of respect, we’d sometimes perform songs that are beloved to a certain city or town. But our main goal was to do our thing, play the best we could, and share something. When there was a language barrier, our music spoke to them on an emotional level.” DB
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