Simply put, Mike Casey‘s recently released live album, The Sound Of Surprise, is a perfect example of passion for the form meeting the ability to express oneself through their instrument. Jazz is about expression more than perfection. Musical rules and conventions are painstaking learned so that they can be broken in as many ways as possible. Casey and bandmates, drummer Corey Garcia and bassist Matt Dwonszyk, pursue the razor’s edge of speaking from the heart and in the heat of the moment.
In more traditional musical settings, the rhythm section is generally called on to create a stable floor for the melody to touch upon and rise above. “Hydraulics” opens in seeming mid-riot, all percussion and pulsing bass that instantly establishes dissonance as the new foundation. When Casey and his bubbling, breathless sax enter, his lines seem to skip impossibly like a stone across raging waters. The ensuing track, a cover of Ornette Coleman‘s “Turnaround,” shows them capable of slowing the tempo and creating negative space just as easily in a remarkable display of call and response.
The razor sharp sound and interplay of tracks like “Dagobah” and “Heartbreak” are made more impressive when you learn that each cut was a live, first take, completely free of studio bells and whistles. Casey and his cohorts display of confidence extends from their playing to their song selection. Songs like “Mack The Knife” and those penned by luminaries like John Coltrane, such as “Miles Mode,” are made over with a eye towards respect and reinvention all at once.
The closer of this collection, “Little Mellonae,” is a playful and energetic encapsulation of the spirit on display throughout the show. Casey’s sax moans and wails while the brash interplay between the rhythmic instruments rises and falls with passion and precision. The Sound Of Surprise is a worthy addition to the library of any jazz aficionado. By albums close, the listeners have shared a journey with the performers that, luckily for all of us, lasted beyond the moment of creation and now will exist forever for us all to enjoy.