Chris Icasiano has established himself as one of the boldest musicians in Seattle's jazz and experimental-music scenes as a drummer in the Bad Luck duo with saxophonist Neil Welch. Together they've delved into free-jazz maelstroms and more nuanced and somber pieces with masterly skill.
Icasiano's debut solo album, Provinces (out today), consists of field recordings he took during a trip to the Philippines, where his ancestors lived; he's woven them throughout compositions created on drums, synths, keyboards, and various percussion instruments. The two suites here, Icasiano explains in the press notes, "explore the complexity of cultural identity and community as a second-generation immigrant in Seattle." Even if you don't know the back story, the tracks here cast riveting spells.
The predominant mode on Provinces isn't so much jazz as it is rigorous exploration of rhythm and tone. Icasiano lofts enigmatic synth melodies and drones and then punctures them with rhythms that vary from powerful monomania to subtle ripples to rapid-fire, Squarepusher-like intricacy. There aren't many reference points for what Icasiano's doing on Provinces; perhaps the closest comparisons would be to avant-garde percussionist William Winant, Guardian Alien/Zs drummer Greg Fox's solo work, and Oneida sticksman Kid Millions's Man Forever project.
"Taho: I" begins with a minute of hypnotically rolling tom-toms before a morose synthesizer sighs with splendid resignation. The drums accelerate, as if to compensate for the melancholy atmosphere clouding the sky above them. Especially in the eight-minute track's second half, Icasiano summons much emotion out of very few elements, and the result is incredibly poignant.