“Nice! Jay Saunders Best of the Two” is a two-disc compilation of the best 18 songs performed by the Two O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas. Under the direction of Saunders, the band plays swinging jazz and has fun at the same time. The trumpet player and bandleader is known for helping students to grow.
About Jay Saunders
From all accounts, it seems Saunders is a sort of unsung hero of collegiate jazz. His modesty is as defining as his willingness to help students be their best.
Saunders gathered professional experience as part of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and as a player in the Dallas, Texas scene for years. At the University of North Texas, Saunders taught lead trumpet and jazz history from 2000 to 2016. He also directed the One and Three O’Clock Lab Bands.
Known for his “infectious enthusiasm,” Saunders has a knack for sensing an ensemble’s morale. The way he teaches and directs allows students to find the connection between feeling good and playing well.
The Frank Rosolino composition is full of trumpet blare and the satisfying thump of drums. Upright bass serves to add texture to an already full composition. The dynamics change and that keeps audiences alert. In the end, the horns have the last notes, and the result is satisfying listening.
The last song on disc two, this song is one to listen to over and over again. The track was recorded live. It gives the rock and soul classic the jazz treatment without losing any of its verve or attitude. Put another way, Two O’Clock Lab Band gives the Booker T. & The M.G.’s track a fresh interpretation.
The horns blast the song into being, and the tight playing moves from trumpets to saxophone. And there is even a sound I call “strangled trombone” that might be applied to a trumpet here, which evokes the roaring ‘20s for a few measures.
Toward the song’s end, when the horns rise in a almost cacophonous blare, then there is a showcase, the recorded crowd is ecstatic. Their enthusiasm for the music is clear and understandable. When the soundscape changes and the upright bass solo keeps pushing the song toward its conclusion, the tension is almost unbearable in a good way, and it makes sense for audience members to yell out.
The song is perfect for dancing, and for listening. The saxophones do the job that an organ and guitar did in the original. But with long jazz notes and clattering drums, the Two O’Clock Lab Band puts a contemporary jazz spin on the classic instrumental. A few “false” endings built on horn blares and drum clatter is almost too much for the gathered audience, and perhaps those listening to the disc. The excitement crowds out any negative feeling, and audiences are made privy to Saunders’ “infectious enthusiasm” via the band’s work.
“Nice!” is another fine recording from the University of North Texas Jazz Department. The department is to be commended for a lively set of discs that do justice to its lengthy history and commitment to jazz.