Review by Tom Ineck
Photos by Kayla Solorzano
Video by Joe Aguirre, Kayla Solorzano and Steffan Decker
June 29, 2018

Huntertones promises to deliver music that is “fun, imaginative and fearless.” Judging by their Nebraska performance debut as the closing act of the 2018 Jazz in June series, it is all that and more. Their music is, in turn, captivating, elevating, awe-inspiring, joyful and globally inclusive. It is also designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners, as demonstrated by the June 26 audience of several thousand happy people. As trumpeter Jon Lampley said early in the show, they play “not just music FOR you, but music WITH you.”

The instrumentation, featuring a three-horn front line plus a rhythm section of keys, electric bass and drums, is similar to the riff-based, jazz-rock of the 1960s group Chicago, but it draws on much more diverse sources, encompassing funk, soul, pop, soundtrack themes and various world music forms. Everything has a twist unique to the Huntertones sound, with clever arrangements and brass harmonies—and without the use of lyrics.

In their seven years together—from the first shows at a house on Hunter Avenue in Columbus, Ohio, to their migration to Brooklyn four years ago—they have finely honed their performances while continuing to expand their repertoire of original compositions and covers. The original tune “Welcome to the Neighborhood” pays tribute to their new home in New York. Other stunning originals included “Sweatin’,” “Star of the East,” and “Togo,” a highly syncopated tune inspired by a recent tour of the African country.

Among the evening’s highlights were the mash-ups of songs by Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, with beat box sounds provided by trombonist Chris Ott. Lampley doubled on trumpet and sousaphone, with Dan White on tenor sax. Despite the absence of lyrics and song titles, the familiar pop tunes were so cleverly arranged and segued so logically that it all made sense.

A perfect example of Huntertones’ talent for logical transition was a segment near the end of the concert that featured a gorgeous rendition of Brian Wilson’s ballad “God Only Knows,” followed by the John Williams theme music for “Jurassic Park” and a sousaphone solo that ended with a quote from J.S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Now, that’s eclectic!

The band closed the concert with a New Orleans-style, second-line march through the Jazz in June audience, from the stage to the distant grassy knoll where hundreds of picnickers were treated to a surprise serenade.

There is little doubt that bands like Huntertones—and other young adventurers like Jamison Ross, Snarky Puppy, and Jon Batiste and Stay Human—are harbingers of where modern jazz is headed. That’s a good thing for the future of the music and its following. It also helps put Jazz in June on the cutting edge of live, outdoor jazz series nationwide. We eagerly anticipate the 28th season in 2019.

[slickr-flickr tag="huntertones" captions="on"] View photos on KZUM's Flickr.

Tom Ineck is the host of “Night Town” on KZUM, every Thursday from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Joe Aguirre and Kayla Solorzano are multimedia interns with KZUM. Steffan Decker is KZUM’s multimedia specialist.