The Mike Casey Trio performs CD release party Friday in Old Lyme

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For as long as there’s been jazz, musicians and aficionados have spent countless post-gig hours in smoky, subterranean nightclubs, fervently debating until dawn whether recorded jazz is optimally captured from a taped live performance or through more formal sessions in the pristine acoustic environment of the studio.

There’s no correct answer — this is jazz we’re talking about, and the dynamics and nuances are myriad.

However, there are plenty of instances where material is originally (and stunningly) captured in studio recordings. Legendary stuff. Only later are some of those albums eclipsed by subsequent versions of the same tunes by the same artists captured in the free-range creativity and energy of live performance.

These are some of the aesthetic considerations that Hartford jazz saxophonist Mike Casey thought about when it came time to record the debut album by his superb trio, which also includes drummer Corey Garcia and bassist Matt Dwonszyk. The name of the CD is “The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door,” which should indicate the trio opted to record in a club setting rather than the studio.

“I’ve always loved live albums as they capture the raw essence of jazz, and we figured we’d give it a shot,” says Casey, a 2015 graduate of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Harford’s Hartt School of Music, and an inspired player and composer whose work is a simmering roux of hardbop, free jazz and fusion. “In fact, going forward, I’m considering ONLY putting out live albums. In a world where so much is superficial, I think live albums are a reminder of reality, humanity — and all the imperfections that go along with that.”

“The Sound of Surprise” was financed through a crowd-funding campaign that raised 111 percent of the goal in less than a month.

“It was an overwhelming response, and it brought me closer to my fans,” Casey says. “They truly have become a part of my journey in releasing this album. It’s an amazing feeling to be mailing CDs to people across the U.S.A. and in China, Norway, the U.K., Canada and Australia.”

It’s also exciting that the Casey Trio selected the Side Door, which has become a world-renowned jazz club housed in the Old Lyme Inn. In fitting tribute, the Side Door hosts a release party for “The Sound of Surprise” Friday. The band will perform, and copies of “The Sound of Surprise” will be available for purchase. Over the next three months, the trio will undertake a 12-date tour at clubs throughout New England and in New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

“The Side Door is one of my favorite places in the world, plus they have the technical capability to superbly record an album,” Casey says. “Everyone was so cooperative, and I have to give a shout-out to Nick Sexton (the Side Door’s sound engineer and production manager). He recorded, mixed and mastered the album and did a phenomenal job that captured the magic created that night.”

Casey has performed at the Side Door numerous times, both with the trio and in the Down in the Bottom duo with Garcia. In fact, it was at the Side Door where Down in the Bottom recorded two different episodes of The Day’s “Song Spinner” series, an occasional print and online feature wherein artists explain how they came to write a particular tune. One of those “Spinners” focused on “Hydraulics,” a tune of Garcia’s that actually leads off “The Sound of Surprise.” A fierce, witty dialogue between bass and percussion is supplemented by Casey’s rich sax bursts.

In addition to “Hydraulics,” “The Sound of Surprise” contains seven tunes that range from expansive and bubbling originals — along with lead single “Hydraulics” there are Casey’s “Dagobah” and “Heartbreak” — to sizzling and clever interpretations of material by Ornette Coleman, Kurt Weill, John Coltrane and Jackie McLean. The sax/drums/bass lineup is a bit atypical. Normally, there’s a piano or guitar component to a jazz trio, but Casey was directly inspired by Sonny Rollins’ original concept of a chordless sax trio. This means there’s more freedom for the musicians to improvise and interact within the textural possibilities of their instruments.

This is all incredibly vibrant on the recording, where the interplay and intuitive groove and explorations by the players is testament to their chemistry and that they’ve played together as a band for three years. The live energy almost sparks from your speakers.

“We totally threw caution to the wind, hence the name ‘The Sound of Surprise,’” Casey says. “We love surprising each other — and the audience — and we find that, when we reach beyond what we think we can do, we achieve a collective mental-flow state. That’s when magic happens!”


Who: Mike Casey Trio

What: CD release party for their debut album “The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door”

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Side Door Jazz Club, 85 Lyme St., Old Lyme

How much: $25; CDs available for purchase

More info: (860) 434-0886,


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