With a creative identity that is part-producer, part-improviser, part-composer, and part-visual artist, Isak Gaines is an artist not easily categorized. His chamber pieces have been internationally recognized. His sample-based music has been represented on multiple releases with Inner Ocean Records. His jazz compositions have been featured in Downbeat Magazine. His saxophone playing has brought him to some of the biggest stages of Europe, South America, and the United States. Nonetheless, these facts only represent a limited perspective of his work.
In 2014, after having spent his first 19 years immersed in Seattle’s rich music culture, Isak moved to New York to study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. His first major arrangements – featured on his 2016 release Bits and Pieces – won the Downbeat Student Music Award for undergraduate small jazz ensemble. Shortly thereafter, he began working in two drastically different mediums: sample-based production and classical composition. It during this time that he connected with his greatest mentor - GRAMMY award winning producer Robert Sadin - under whose oversight he wrote his first major chamber and orchestral pieces, most notably his string sextet In The Heart Of The Earth, which was produced by Sadin and recorded in collaboration with Donald Palma of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In the summer of 2018, Isak was invited to participate in the International Antonin Dvorak Composition Competition in Prague, where he won the special prize for Best Chamber Music. He was a 2019 national finalist for both the American Prize in Instrumental Chamber Music Composition and the ASCAP Morton Gould Award, and his duo for piano and tenor saxophone The Sleeping Mind was recognized by the 2020 Tribeca New Music Competition. Throughout his time in New York, he was also a frequent guest artist with the house band at The Lesson - a weekly improvised experimental Hip-Hop session in New York’s Lower East Side organized by drummer Lenny “The Ox” Reece. As a member of New York-based experimental folk project Belaver, he has recorded in collaboration with prolific Austin-based producer and songwriter Robert Ellis. In July 2020, Isak signed with Inner Ocean Records and subsequently put out a pair of EP’s - Revelries Pt. I & II - his first solo releases with the label after having been featured on two of their compilations the previous year.
All of these experiences boil down to a unique aesthetic style: the pervasive and undeniable influence of Black American Music, combined with a deep respect for both the harmonic and textural innovations of the European Classical tradition and the rich lineage of American songwriting. Between densely-layered sample manipulations, intricate chamber arrangements, and multi-instrumental improvisations, his work focuses on experimentation in search of the point where they all intersect. After graduating, Isak relocated to Philadelphia where, along with frequent returns to New York, he is currently active.