The Classic Jazz Trio grew out of “informal jam sessions” at the Columns Hotel between guitarist John Rankin and clarinetists Tommy Sancton and Tom Fischer. The instrumental makeup of the ensemble is unique, as far as I know. The instrumental makeup of the ensemble is unique, as far as I know, and the novelty is a source of inspiration for the musicians and intrigue for the listener. There are moments that make me think, “Ah, so this is why you don’t hear this instrumentation more often.”
The graceful interplay of masterfully handled clarinets is a joy; their clarity of tone makes every harmony jump out at you like a 3-D image. But after forty minutes or so, I long for a trumpet. I’m in awe of the musicians; Rankin, with his complex finger-style playing, is a rhythm section unto himself. Sancton and Fischer bounce melodies and variations off of each other with polished charm and great expressive variety. But on the up-tempo barnburner “That’s a Plenty,” I wait in vain for the trombone solo I know will never come. It’s hard to put an edge on an all-clarinet horn section.
Perhaps a little tailoring of repertoire or stylistic approach is in order—I’m thinking in particular of Jimmy Giuffre’s success in the ’50s with a mellow-to-the-extreme trio of clarinet, guitar and bass. In their best moments though, the Classic Jazz Trio comes together beautifully, as in the lovely “Burgundy Street Blues” (which Sancton learned at the feet of its composer George Lewis back in the ’60s) or the bouncy “I’ll See You in My Dreams”.