Review of “Sand Dollar In My Suitcase”

Producer, keyboardist and owner of the record label Creative Soul Jazz Eric Copeland has formed the contemporary jazz group Player A consisting of Nashville’s top studio musicians. Their first albums are On The Side (2010), Our Own Devices (2011), and The Jazz In Me (2015). Devices, Techniques, & Mechanisms (2018) was their fourth project. The newest project Sand Dollar In My Suitcase (2020) has been in production for a period of ten years.

“I started writing this on a Florida vacation about 2009,” remarks Player A composer, keyboardist, and vocalist John Eric Copeland. “I meant to make it the next Player A album after Our Own Devices, but instead released other projects as I kept writing these beach, Florida, and Latin songs.”

Player A Jazz features the top session players in Nashville. Consequently, the band members who are involved are most of those we already know from the previous productions. Besides keyboardist and singer John Eric Copeland, who also composed all tracks and has written most lyrics, are players John Hammond (drums), Craig Nelson (bass), Scott Williamson (drums), Brian Fullen (drums), Gary Lunn (bass), Danny O’Lannerghty (bass), Mark Baldwin (guitars), Scott Dente (guitar), and Tom Hemby (guitars).

The album starts with “Welcome To Florida”, an enthusiastic song about a trip to sunny Florida with all its attractions. Mark Baldwin’s exquisite acoustic guitar is the instrumental counterpart to the vocals of John Eric and Sarah Whitemore. “Two Worlds” turns out to be an upbeat alternative to the music of the group The Rippingtons.

John Eric’s greatest talent lies in his ability to translate exciting little stories into text and music. A good example of this is the title track “Sand Dollar in my Suitcase”, a tropical keepsake of a past paradise. You only have to look at the Sand Dollar to recall the memories. With the reggae-enhanced “The Panhandler”, the group excels in Caribbean flavors, featuring Gary Lunn on a melodic lead bass accompanied by steel drums.

“On The Beach” is a musical picture of the mood, tuned in mild colors, which reminds of moments of happiness on the sand, where you can enjoy life to the full with friends and family. “Festivo (Danza de la Vida)” combines two musical themes, a Latin-enhanced dynamic syncopating smashing hit, and a playful, reflective subject. Both mix and separate from each other and thus generate the desired moments of tension.

Unlike comparable singers, Copeland also takes on themes that seem unimpressive at first glance. In the song “Palmetto” about a palm tree he reveals himself to be a nature lover but at the same time links this element with memories of relaxing places free from city pace. “Tumble” seems to me a natural progression from Michael Franks’ “When I Give My Love To You”. Similar in instrumentation, however, Copeland chooses further percussive elements to make his song more attractive. Mark Baldwin delivers on acoustic guitar the extra crème.

“Safe From the Storm” features a duet between John Eric and Cheryl Tuell. Is “The Samba Is Waiting” a musical joke? It turns out this piece is a slow Bossa Nova version of the classic hymn “The Savior Is Waiting”, a nod to the fact that most of Player A’s musicians work on many contemporary gospel works in Nashville. The contemplative “Moon Over the Ocean” brings a worthy ending to the overall convincing album.

With his pronounced vocal part, Sand Dollar In My Suitcase ties in more with the album The Jazz In Me than with the albums Our Own Devices and Devices, Techniques, Mechanisms. John Eric Copeland spins the jazzy component back in favor of the balladic. Thus he addresses a definitely different target group than the contemporary jazz-oriented fan community. A courageous step, but one that can certainly pay off. From a musical point of view, there is nothing to be sniffed at in the high quality of play of all those musicians involved.

“My goal with this record was to feature the Latin jazz side of our group and take a little vacation south in the sun,” Copeland adds. “These songs fit with other songs from our previous works including “El Caribe” from our first EP, to “Talk About It” on Our Own Devices, to “Have Thine Own Way” on The Jazz in Me. Don’t worry, our next album we will be turning back to some very progressive urban smooth jazz!”

Review of “Devices, Techniques, & Mechanisms” – Phantom Tollbooth

cropped-cover.jpgThe new Player A EP, Devices, Techniques, & Mechanisms, is pretty much a revisiting of 2011’s Our Own Devices, adding a fresher take on four tracks alongside a pair of new songs (“Yin and Yang” and “Deep Pockets”). The resulting half-dozen crisply produced light jazz/funk songs are a neat package of exemplary instrumental jazz from a group of studio masters.

The re-named “Told You So!” is remixed to feature the tasteful, smooth soloing of sax-man Jeff Kashiwa, who peppers the mix with tasty hot licks throughout while the incredibly melodic bass of Gary Lunn winds through the piece with the dexterity of some kind of aural reptile. Eric Copeland’s keys and programming support the underbelly of the music while the rock-solid drums by John Hammond propels everything forward. Additional loops and programming are provided by Jeff Savage.

“Deep Pockets,” while ‘new’ as a Player A tune, was originally slated for Our Own Devices but ended up as “Drew’s Blues” on guitarist Drew Davison’s Spin Cycle project. Here, the song features tasteful, fluid, intricate guitar passages by Mark Baldwin, who turns in a stunning solo skillfully straddling both blues and jazz. Copeland’s soulful and funky organ solo is also a highlight on the track.

The amazing Tom Hemby guests on the other ‘new’ track, “Yin and Yang.” His incredibly subtle funky lines melt their way through the tapestry of the song and emerge full-strength for a sweet solo at about the half-way point. The song’s tight, funky groove and interesting time signature are well served by Scott Williamson’s drums.

The sophisticated funk of “Chillest” (Savage Remix) features fine solos by all involved and a tasty turn behind the drum kit by Dan Needham. This is followed by “Coming Back On” (a remix of Player A’s successful “Coming On”) and the powerhouse “Sleekness Revisited,” a monster track with tight, funky, infectious horn lines and great guitar/sax interplay.

With Devices, Techniques, & Mechanisms, Player A gives us something old, something new, something borrowed, and – yes, even something blue …but always with a smooth touch of jazz. The EP is produced and conceived by Eric Copeland, mixed by Bill Whittingham, and mastered by Randy LeRoy, with plenty of remixing magic by Jeff Savage. – Bert Seraco

Review of “Devices, Techniques, & Mechanisms” – The Jazz World

There are a couple of reasons I like EP’s. First off, it is a shorter listen…for those of us who still like to listen to albums from start to finish. Second, since EP’s have fewer songs, there are no filler tracks.

Needless to say, I was very interested in the new EP from Player A. They are a band of studio musicians that have played with a who’s who in Pop, Soul and Jazz music. I mean, I am sure you have heard of Take 6, Bob James, Peter Cetera and Michael McDonald, right?

Their latest six-track EP was just released. It is called Devices Techniques & Mechanisms, and they will take you on a trip through a few different styles of music. As you listen to these tracks, you will appreciate just how good these musicians actually are. They are based in Nashville, so you know they can play everything.

One thing that really stands out is the recording quality. Not all music recordings are created equal. I have said on numerous occasions that Euge Groove has the best sounding recordings in the Smooth Jazz Genre. I will have to say that Devices Techniques & Mechanisms is right up there in sound quality.

Let’s go through each of these tracks, and you will be able to listen to a couple of the songs on this post.

The set leads off with Told You So! It is really like a jam session with its New Jack Swing beat. Jeff Kashiwa is featured here, and you can almost call it a duet between Kashiwa’s sax and Mark Baldwin‘s guitars. They absolutely slay those verses with the guitar coming in first, then the sax. In a nice touch, there are some background vocals that come in after the breakdown. It will make you sing along as the song comes to its conclusion.

You will love this next track. Yin & Yang is a mid-tempo track that has some Eastern influences. There are some smooth skat vocals over the verses. I love that because you can immediately start singing along as you become a part of the song. My only problem is that it is only 3:05. DJ’s can easily play this in a lounge as it will mix with Jazz, Soul, and downbeat house.

Speaking of House Music, Chillest is up next. This is a remix of a track called Chill on a 1999 album from Copeland named Cooler. This is a club track that you can listen to while enjoying that glass of cognac.

The band brings it back to Contemporary Smooth Jazz with Coming Back On. There is some serious sax being played here, and if you listen closely, you will hear how they layer the sax parts to get that great sound. The bassline also takes me back to a mid-tempo Shalamar tune. I am definitely not mad at that! If it were me, I would put this one out as the first single.

The EP concludes with Sleekness Revisited. The track features Marcus Anderson on sax, and this is an all out JAM! Everything is on point here. Even though the sax is front and center, you can feel those drums right out of the gate. You also have the keys and the guitars completing that big sound. If you are not bobbing your head to this, you probably do not have a pulse.

I am positive you will enjoy this EP. Be sure to listen to the tracks in order, as it flows nicely from one track to the next. You will truly enjoy the various styles, from Smooth Jazz to Blues to mellow House music. –

OurOwnDevices_CoverReview of “Our Own Devices” –

Player A is not your typical Nashville music group. Flooding the scene with new ideas and extreme professionalism, it was only a natural release after their debut EP On The Side their sophomore album Our Own Devices (2011).

Player A feature such artists as keyboardist and producer Eric Copeland, bassist Gary Lunn, guitarist Mark Baldwin, drummer Bryan Fullen, and saxophonist Sam Levine. Inspired by mastermind and composer Eric Copeland, Player A presents the finest smooth jazz Nashville has ever heard.

Sleekness starts the album with a funky approach. Marcus Anderson takes the lead on sax. This young lion is a powerhouse of a saxman. Mark Baldwin answers his call on sax with the right answer on guitar.

Staying Alive is not a Saturday Night Fever dream. This rendition is a heavyweight of groove. Especially the talk box effect makes it dirty and phat.

The Deepest Love is a fine ballade, a treasury for all smooth jazz fans. Dave Cleveland on guitar gives this tune a shining finish. With Coming On saxophonist Sam Levine showcases his great experience and prowess as player and overdub specialist.

Our Own Devices has so much musical depth, you don’t know how to start praising the musicians. From Copeland’s compositional genius to Brian Fullen’s impressive work on drums to Tom Hemby’s breathtaking guitar loops or Danny O’Lannerty’s propulsive bass, there is a plethora to listen.

On the easy going Steppin’, Gary Lunn excels on bass. One Step Forward shows the band’s competence for lyrical movie scores. Talk About It adds a breeze of Reggae flavored harmony (featuring the) remarkable Scott Dente and Mark Baldwin on acoustic guitars.

(Hate To Say) I Told You So is the perfect song for Copeland to spread his talent on the smoky keys. The Ruthann Friedman written hit Windy from 1967 was introduced into the instrumental world by Wes Montgomery. But what Copeland makes with the melody, is pure genius. From the Mario Brother intro to the fast paced syncopated jazz piece, just superb.

With the edgy song Chiller the group presents their members in flashing solos. Gary Lunn on fretless bass and Eric Copeland on electric piano serve A Fitting End in a melodious and introspective way.

Nashville’s highly accomplished musicians Player A deserve our attention. Our Own Devices is an exceedingly thrilling experience. More of these stirring ideas on their next album and this band will write history. – Hans-Bernd Hülsmann

Review of “Our Own Devices” – Smooth Jazz Jazz Therapy

Producer and keyboard player Eric Copeland has brought together the very best of Nashville’s session musicians for his brainchild excursion into contemporary jazz that he has simply named Player A. In fact the genre is far from being new to this talented collective who also serve as a production team for other jazz artists including Creative Soul Jazz label mate Drew Davidsen. The latest CD from Player A is titled ‘Our Own Devices’ and comprises ten of Copeland’s own compositions plus two well crafted covers. It’s an eclectic body of work that shows off the immense artistry of those involved and in so doing provides several truly outstanding tunes.

‘Our Own Devices’ is quickly up and running with the hard driving ‘Sleekness’ which features sax from Marcus Anderson and, although ‘Talk About It’ has something of an Acoustic Alchemy feel about it, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward’ proves to be an expansive musical extravaganza that is underpinned by fine orchestral elements.

In terms of cover versions, Copeland’s retro tinged keys are integral to the bands ultra funky take on the Bee Gee’s ‘Staying Alive’ and their edgy version of the Ruthann Friedman composition ‘Windy’ makes this familiar song sound brand new.

Elsewhere the title cut is a moody piece that serves as an excellent showcase for the combined skills of Copeland and guitarist Tom Hemby while ‘Chiller’ is another intensely funky number for which Mark Baldwin on guitar, Gary Lunn on bass and Copeland all play a part. Mark Baldwin is again in splendid form for the inviting vibe of ‘(Hate To Say) I Told Ya So’ while in terms of personal favorites both the easy grooving ‘The Deepest Love’ and ‘Steppin’ (which features nice keys from Copeland and storming bass from Lunn) are right up there. However, best of all is the pleasingly mid tempo ‘Coming On’. The first track to be serviced to radio it features sax from Sam Levine and is sure to do well.

The appropriately titled ‘A Fitting End’ provides a mellow conclusion to ‘Our Own Devices’ and affords Gary Lunn on fretless bass one more chance to shine. It is a reminder, if in fact is one needed, that Nashville is not only one of the last bastions of consistent studio work for quality players but is also home to some serious jazz talent. – Denis Poole

Review of “Our Own Devices” – The Smooth Jazz Ride

Talk about assembling a great group of session players and cranking out a funky contemporary/fusion-based work of noteworthy art, the Nashville group Player A has done that and then some with Our Own Devices, displaying about as much vigor and fire as one could hope to hear. Complete with deep, expressive bass lines, well-defined and authoritative drums and keys, solid guitar runs, memorable melodies, and even well-placed scatting on occasion, this project truly has one thing in abundance: identity, unlike many session players might acquire in their everyday studio roles.

Producer/keyboardist/composer Eric Copeland has much to say about this project and much for which to be proud. As he states, “’Our Own Devices’ is a modern masterpiece. This thing is just a piece of art. It looks and feels like art in your hands, and the work of the players is just something else.” “Something else,” indeed. There’s even an appearance on the lead track by saxman Marcus Anderson, himself a rising star.

The album combines modern jazz audio technology with the old-fashioned manner of jamming with live musicians to capture the complete essence of where jazz was, where it’s been, and where it is now. Tracks like the lead jamming track, “Sleekness,” through the serene, sweet, and very reflective title track, featuring Copeland’s keys and the guitar work of Tom Hemby to the mid-tempo expressive “Steppin’” with Copeland laying down the funky style of keys I personally love, (that James Lloyd/Bob Baldwin get-at-it kind of funky style) and the true bassmanship of Gary Lunn to the fusion-based tracks like “One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward,” this album does a good job of covering it all, including a finale with bassist Lunn on the fretless with just Copeland as accompaniment. Brilliant piece. The CD jacket says: “We are bringing the art back to contemporary jazz. We are bringing the craft back to the music business.” There’s no doubt in my mind that they are, at the very least, doing their part here, and very well. – Ronald Jackson

Review of “Our Own Devices” – The Phantom Tollbooth

The A team strikes! This time it’s Player A – Nashville’s finest session men together in one studio, left to their own devices. An instrumental feast for the ears.

You say you’ve never heard Player A? Well, you’re probably wrong since Player A is a group of Nashville’s finest, most prolific studio session players: the ‘A list’ – hence, (in the spirit of First Call) the name. And a fitting name it is, with such spectacular instrumentalists as Mark Baldwin, Scott Dente, Dave Cleveland and Tom Hemby on guitars, Matt Pierson, Danny O’Lannerty and Gary Lunn on Bass, John Hammond, Scott Williamson, Brian Fullen, Ken Lewis and Dan Needham on drums, and Eric Copeland on keyboards: a super-group of musicians, more-or-less faceless to the public, who provide the musical condiments that flavor the sounds of so many of Nashville’s greats.

The smooth, cool jazz of these twelve tracks (produced by Copeland) highlights the capabilities of these players not only as amazing soloists but as a sometimes funky, sometimes smooth rhythm section. Everyone shines on this engaging collection that is both ‘hot’ enough to dig into and smooth enough to create a nice groove in the background. One can only imagine how wonderful it would be to hear this band in a live context, where things could become a bit more spontaneous and (hopefully) even get a bit out of hand. These guys have got the goods – of course, years of supporting the ‘main event’ has taught these musicians the art of restraint and respect for the ‘space’ of the guys playing next to them. In this case ‘guys’ like sax legend Sam Levine or Marcus Anderson (who each do guest shots on this project).

The instrumental songs are all written by Copeland except for the two covers: “Staying Alive,” and the sixties hit, “Windy,” which cleverly starts off sounding like a vintage video game before getting into the meat of the piece: funk meets technology, meets jazz.

Our Own Devices does indeed leave these musicians, who usually are supporting other well-known artists, to their own devices, and the result is an album of well-constructed songs featuring the best players around finally getting to stretch out and do what they want to do.

It sounds like they had fun – so will you. – Bert Saraco

Review of “Our Own Devices” – Jazz Review

Player A is a loose collection of studio musicians out of Nashville who have come together under the direction of keyboardist, producer and Creative Soul Jazz label President Eric Copeland. While all of the musicians on the disc are heavy hitters there is no way they are household names unless you like to read liner notes on the records of others because it’s there where you’ll find their names. The cast of musicians rotates and revolves depending on the composition, but the one stable element throughout is Copeland’s playing, his compositions and arrangements; besides the two covers, one by the Brothers Gibb, “Staying Alive,” and the pop chestnut “Windy.”

There are a number of standout points regarding this recording. Guitarist Dave Cleveland takes a lovely turn on “The Deepest Love,” John Hammond’s drum groove is wonderfully tight on “Sleekness,” bassist Gary Lunn lays down some sweet bass on “Steppin” and the groove to “Chiller” is infectious.

Copeland has an incredible instinctiveness when it comes to how rhythm section arrangements should be scoped out. The placing of his blues and gospel-inflected solos within the different tracks is also brilliant. For those who love hip grooves, this is a great disc.

Review of “Our Own Devices” – Fan Email

Now this is a Jazz CD! This CD makes me want to jump in a car and take a drive down California’s coast line. No unnecessary words to complicate things. The instruments do all the necessary talking. Love the smooth and calm feel. No need to hurry, just sit down and chill for a while. – Trina from KY

onthesidecoverReview of “On the Side” –

Player A is a new contemporary jazz group in Nashville, TN. These top session players have already worked with Chuck Loeb, Luther Vandross, Michael McDonald, Chaka Khan, Jonathan Butler, Kenny Loggins and more greats of the music scene.

The band are keyboardist and producer Eric Copeland, bassist Gary Lunn, guitarist Mark Baldwin, drummer Bryan Fullen and saxophonist Sam Levine. The band also works as production team for other jazz artists like guitarist Drew Davidsen, recording with him the albums Around (Again), We 3 Stringz and his 2011 release Spin Cycle.

On The Side is the first solo project of this formation presenting finest smooth jazz in the style of Fourplay, The Rippingtons or Jeff Lorber.

This EP offers five elegant tunes starting with the slow paced On The Side. A smooth reflection of the same-titled song, Copeland released on his album The Jazz In Me. Gloomy like a summer breeze.

The spiritual Gospel standard S&T (Softly & Tenderly) features bassist Gary Lunn, who dedicates his instrument to the worship as a fully functional flowing part of a musical collective that draws people closer to God.

Jazz is often associated with the color blue. Jazz habitually uses blue notes. A blue note is a note sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale for expressive purposes. In The Key Of Blue follows this imagination, somehow lonesome and melancholic.

The colorful El Caribe reminds of the silky smooth style of the Rippingtons. Alluring and soothing. Mark Baldwin’s guitar work is the perfect answer to Copeland’s brilliant work on keys.

Eric originally composed Come To Me for Sienna’s debut album Steps, which was released on his label in 2003. He transfers this soulful melody to an awesome instrumental rendition. Just As I Am is a well-known hymn interpreted by Gary Lunn on bass and elaborated by Eric on piano with atmospheric reverb.

This EP is a taste of the upcoming album Our Own Devices, which is scheduled for release in 2011. The songs are contemplative, uplifting and a pledge for the survival of the spiritual dimension of jazz music. – Hans-Bernd Hülsmann

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