Some of the best studio players in Nashville produce an impressive half-hour of emotionally satisfying and musically stunning jazz on the new project by Player A. On The Side is a tasty main course…

On The Side

Player A

Creative Soul Jazz

6 tracks / 29 Minutes

Player A is the super-group made up of players that most people have never heard of – that is, unless you’re someone who’s searched out the very best Nashville studio musicians, in which case you’d know these names very well: Brian Fullen on drums, Gary Lunn on bass, Mark Baldwin on guitars, and Eric Copeland on keys. This is the quartet of musicians that create the amazing vibe on this project, with the exception of “In The Key of Blue,” which features, along with Fullen and Copeland, studio legends Tom Hemby on guitar and Craig Nelson on bass.

These men are the go-to guys, the cream of the crop, the dependable first-callers that appear on countless projects by the major players, helping them to sound just right. On The Side is, as the title implies, a side-project spear-headed by Copeland, who, besides playing all keyboard parts, also wrote and produced the project. The music is cool jazz, both emotionally refreshing and beautifully crafted – something for the soul as well as the intellect. The playing on On The Side is never over-the-top, but is frequently inspiring in its tastiness and virtuosity – don’t mistake this for elevator music, because it’s got way too much going on to relegate it to the background.  

Four of the six tracks are original compositions, the title track and “El Caribe” being breezy, infectious jazz with economic but spot-on soloing. “In The Key of Blue,” is a dreamier piece, reminding me of the jazzier side of the Dutch group, “Focus,” with wonderful piano throughout and a subtle rhythmic pull that’s irresistible. “Come To Me” is a mid-tempo funky bit of gospel-jazz that brings to mind the melodic sense of the late Andrae Crouch on the vocal chorus (sung by Copeland and Cheryl McKenney), and a touch of George Benson-like scatting by Mark Baldwin.

The two standards that are arranged by Copeland are “S&T” (which, for those of us that grew up holding a hymn-book on Sunday mornings will recognize as “Softly and Tenderly”), and “Just As I Am.” Gary Lunn’s bass on these is melodic and stunningly played, stating the themes and soloing with taste and virtuosity. Both songs are inspiring reminders of the strength of the melodies of these old hymns.

They say that good things come in small packages, and in the case of On The Side, the album’s brevity is the only possible criticism. But then again, they also say it’s good to leave your audience wanting more. I could certainly use more of Player A.

-Bert Saraco for the concert photography of Bert Saraco