Making his recording debut with much anticipation, saxophonist Mike Casey delivers an inspiring performance on The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door featuring four re-imagined standards from the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Kurt Weill and Jackie McLean as well as three originals from the band. A graduate of the University of Hartford, Hartt School of Music, Casey, drummer Corey Garcia and bassist Matt Dwonszyk have been performing regularly for three years prior to this recording.
Recorded live at the Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme, CT, each tune was done as a first take with no edits and includes the live audience reaction found in a typical raw setting. There are only seven pieces and the untypical trio format features the leader as the main voice though there are many solo spaces where Garcia and bassist Dwonszyk display the depths of their chops. For the drummer, Casey's "Dagobah" and on "Miles Mode," are perfect examples of his prowess on the sticks and brushes. The leader's other original, "Heartbreak," is a slowdown tempo burner where the tenor leads the music with sprite solos and able support from his bandmates.
The time-honored Kurt Weill standard "Mack the Knife," is a one of the more memorable pieces of the set arranged by Casey, this rendition is quite different and stands out as a unique version of the classic with the bassist delivering one of his best lines. Imitating the legendary Coltrane may be a dangerous endeavor but on "Miles Mode," Casey's phrasings are not overpowering or overindulgent but expressed quite nicely.
The most ambitious piece of the recording has to be the lengthy ten and a half-minute almost free-style treatment of McLean's "Little Melonae" where each member of the band take their turn with full solo spots as Casey's alto voice shines one last time. There are no surprises here as young saxophonist Mike Casey and crew engineer a successful mix of modern jazz in a dynamic live setting with his first ever offering on The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door, an unconventional album offering surprisingly good music.