“Chasing Tales” press

It’s not often that saxophonist Stephen Gauci jumps into multiphonic mode, so that when it happens, the impact is special indeed. Toward the end of “Boogaloo,” he dives headlong into a raunchy tone which, by itself, is impeccably timed, but with Kirk Knuffke’s cornet emitting overtones in a nearly matched will of fluttering pitches, the blood begins to boil. Add Ken Filiano’s deep groove to the mix, and the heat is turned up even further. The moment is matched in intensity by Filiano’s cruncy double stop in the following track, both instances illustrating that this drummer-less trio can crank up the voltage at any time, and to maximum effect.

All three players’ vocabularies have deep roots in what could be called postbop, but each is perfectly content to travel the spaceways at a moment’s notice. To say that this is a freebop date would be to discount, just as an example, the deep bluesiness of the title track, after the chamber-music duet of Gauci and Knuffke, when the composition proper’s uhr-swing takes over. Then, there is the trumpet ululations and creaking arco duet that opens “Probing for Places,” as decidedly timbral as this group is likely to get. Usually, a fair amount of tradition is audible, as Knuffke inhabits Clifford Brown’s world as he slides between pitches and exhibits a similarly rich tone and blanket-warm vibrato. Simply put, there is not a bassist more versatile than Ken Filiano; If outside-the-box freedom is required, he’s there, and if in-the-pocket groove orders the day, no one puts more energy into every groove and slide. Gauci channels the tonal flexibility of Sonny Rollins through new-thing swirls and liquid-fast chromatic runs that he unfurls at just the right second. Most impressive of all, he’ll let hang a long looming note, such as the achingly vibrato-ed pitch hanging just between C-sharp and D as “Symphony in K”‘s raga-rock roars to life.

This disc should have a broad appeal, engaging with composition and free improvisation in turn and in good balance. The music can be chamber-intimate and concert-hall huge, existing in a reverberant space that is never overpowering. The recording and the music are uniformly excellent.

-Mark Medwin, The Squids ear


Sometimes I compose my reviews while driving. No, I’m not typing and driving, rather I’m taking advantage of the wild world of text-to-speech and as we all know, what comes out is sometimes so wonderfully dinged up by the Internet that it becomes something rather unique. Case in point? My review of the excellent Chasing Tails by the trio of Stephen Gauci, Kirk Knuffke and Ken Filiano. My review began:

“There’s a certain post-bop sensibility to Chasing Tails. The sax, cornet, and bass line up is a bit unusual,” – so far, a little clean up needed but ok, but then – “but you track like ghosting, cheese saxophone play keep a steady pulse”.

Did I say that? No, I’m hardly that poetic … Ok, now seriously folks:

The aforementioned instrumentation is indeed unusual, but it works quite well. Perhaps it is Filiano’s percussive bass plucking and Knuffke’s rhythmic comping on the cornet that keep things bouncing along so well, but right from the first track, “Epee”, where Gauci has a fantastic run on the sax, you know this is a special album. The same can be said for “Ghosting”, the second track, which begins with a delightfully melodic solo from Knuffke. The interplay between cornet and the bass is incredibly precise, and when Gauci joins in and the conversation turns into a dialog between the sax and the bass, things really get cooking. The next track, “Boogaloo”, begins with abstract counterpoint between the sax and cornet; however, as ‘out’ as the music gets, the songs never lose their melodic bearings.

The interconnectedness of the three musicians on this album is just great, there’s a lot of breathing room in the tunes even as they intertwine quite precisely. Fiiliano’s bass playing is exceptional – his pulse, his note choices and his solos are exceptional. The same really could be said for both Knuffke and Gauci, there are no missteps or empty stretches in the music, the ideas just keep coming track after track.

Half improvised, half comprised of compositions from the three members, there is a lot to dig into and enjoy here. And indeed, that ghosting saxophone keeps a steady pulse!

-Paul Acquaro, Free Jazz Blog




I like to pull for the underdog, and I suppose that’s why I like to check out what Stephen Gauci is up to from time to time. I’m not sure why I feel that way about him; perhaps it’s because he came to music as a profession relatively late in life (I’ve read that his first studio session was at age 35), or perhaps because you don’t see his name a lot.
Gauci has put out some albums on the CIMP label, displaying promise but also falling victim to the drawbacks of the CIMP aesthetic: A seeming lack of preparation and a tendency to let ideas run past the point of diminishing returns. But he was impressive on 2010’s SKM (Clean Feed) with Kris Davis and Michael Bisio, and now he’s part of another drummer-less trio on Chasing Tales.
Six of the tracks are completely improvised, while Gauci contributes three compositions, and Knuffke and Filiano one each. The composed tracks have interesting arrangements and are crisply executed, with enough air in them to encourage dialog between the players. It’s a tribute to the group that the quality is consistent across all the tracks, whether composed or improvised.
Gauchi has sometimes come across as tentative to these ears, perhaps thinking a little too much, but he sounds confident and in control here, more fluid than I’ve ever heard him. Knuffke is so consistent; I sang his praises on Max Johnson’s The Invisible Trio, and he delivers here as well. Like Gauci, he doesn’t feel the need to use a lot of extended techniques to make his point.
A few years ago I was on the fence about Ken Filiano, but he seems to get better and better. I still think Dreams from a Clown Car (Clean Feed) was criminally overlooked, and he’s the glue for this record, whether walking under the other two players with a full, rich tone, adding his commentary, or playing unison phrases.
This album makes me smile, and who can’t use a little of that in their lives? Great spirit, great interaction, mutual respect. It’s the little record that could.
– Craig Premo, Improvised Blog

Although the unusual instrumentation on Chasing Tales arose almost by accident, it proved such a fertile combination that an album was inevitable. Saxophonist Stephen Gauci and bassist Ken Filiano share a productive history but the addition of busy cornetplayer-about-town Kirk Knuffke completes a trio of quick-witted improvisers, who demonstrate throughout five originals and eight collective pieces that you don’t need to go beyond conventional registers to uncover untapped seams of invention. By way of introduction, Gauci parades his easygoing burly tenor saxophone, blending emphatic motifs amid roller coaster lines in a limber double act with Filiano’s nimble-fingered stylings, which fuse melody with rhythmic attack on the opening “Epee”. That’s followed by a similarly involved pairing of cornet and bass at the outset of “Ghosting”, before Gauci joins to inaugurate a spirited three-way interaction. It’s immediately obvious that as a group they are fully formed, missing nothing, a feeling confirmed by charts extracting maximum impact from the resources at hand. Gauci’s jauntily contrapuntal “Boogaloo” constitutes one of the early highlights with its vibrant interlocking parts. But even within the tight arrangements there exists ample space for individual expression. Knuffke and Filiano enjoy a special rapport, as evinced by both their mercurial exchange of half-valve splutters and plosives and creaky bow work on “Probing For Places” and subsequent reflective dialogue to close “Speaking Of You Gently”. However, Filiano’s title track is the standout piece, even among a consistently engaging set, and he excels throughout, whether in the dramatic contrast between his startling arco unisons with Gauci’s tenor and his full-toned pizzicato or his concluding solo, which splices gravitas, and urgency. –  John Sharpe, New York City Jazz Record