Photo courtesy of the artist.
As a drummer and composer, Colin Hinton balances an eclectic taste with a sharp focus. He’s as comfortable in a free improvisation setting as he is writing exacting chamber music. This Thursday, September 6, Hinton will make his Jazz Gallery debut as a bandleader with his group Facehugger, a quintet that sits at the nexus of contemporary improvisation and concert music. Featuring woodwind players Anna Webber and Yuma Uesaka, guitarist Edward Gavitt, and bassist Shawn Lovato, Facehugger will head into the studio next week to record their debut album. We caught up with Hinton to discuss his path through diverse musical styles and their communities, and how this journey has impacted his work with Facehugger.
The Jazz Gallery: Your music explores a lot of intersections between different musical practices—namely improvisational practices from jazz as well as sounds and structures from modernist classical music. How did this exploration begin for you?
Colin Hinton: A lot of this started when I became more aware of the AACM. My background was in playing more straight-ahead and modern jazz and that was initially what I wanted to do when I moved to New York in 2011. After trying to do that for a couple of years, I never felt like I fully committed to it, I felt burned out. I didn’t really know what else was out there. I then started hanging out more with Tyshawn Sorey and following him around. He really introduced me to this musical world that I knew existed, but didn’t know that much about. A lot of what he showed me initially centered on the AACM, specifically the music of Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams.
TJG: In that period, were there particular records or pieces from those musicians that ended up being big eye-openers?
CH: I got the Art Ensemble record A Jackson in Your Houseway before I got into this music. I was probably 19 or 20. It was a pretty huge record for me, but I didn’t really understand the context behind what the Art Ensemble was. Tyshawn then told me to check out Braxton’s ‘80s quartet, specifically the live recordings from Coventry and Birmingham.
I didn’t completely understand what was going on—I wasn’t really familiar with Braxton’s musical world and how the band approached those pieces as part of a big, open work. But I was just fascinated by the initial aesthetic of what they were doing. It wasn’t until a lot later when I went back and bought those records Four Compositions, Five Compositions, Six Compositions, that make up the bulk of the source material for those live performances. I can’t stress enough how big of an influence his music and writings have been. Everything about the man is inspiring. The way he talks about music and life really resonated with me. I’ve actually never heard him play live or had the opportunity to meet him, but hopefully I will get to one day.
One of the other people that had a huge influence on me at the time was Ingrid Laubrock. I studied composition with her for about two years. She also showed me a lot of AACM records, especially a lot of Henry Threadgill records that I didn’t know, but then talked with me a lot about Stockhausen and other composers that she was drawing from.
At about that same time, Tyshawn got me into Morton Feldman, and I started getting into more contemporary classical music. The culmination of this path in a lot of ways came about a year and a half ago when I started studying composition with Eric Wubbels and he just blew the lid open on a lot of that world for me. In a way, I feel like I ended heading toward this world because I felt like I had exhausted my outlets in some of the other worlds that I was working in. I felt that I was looking for something that I hadn’t quite found yet and just kept searching. Where I am now feels like it’s more open-ended than the other places I had ended up in before.