Straight Ahead Jazz Horns by Impact Soundworks
Impact Soundworks’ Smart Voice Technology might be just what you need to come off as a master of pop horn orchestration (even if you’re not … but we won’t tell!).
by Alex Arsov, May 2017
I have a decent number of horn libraries, some are more detailed with more articulations, while others offer more instruments. The sound quality is indisputable, as all the big players offer top notch samples giving highly realistic results. Yes, Impact Soundworks is a big player, at least quality wise. This one shines with its so-called Smart Voicing Technology. As we all know, the main problem while working with horn libraries is not the particular sound, but the complexity of a horn ensemble arrangement. Let’s say you are not a horn expert, working on some rock song or any other genre. All you want is to add some short horn phrases to fill in the transitions between vocal phrases. You don’t want to complicate things with chords, you even have an idea how the horn section should sound, banging that basic horn melody through your keyboard. And now the fun part: arranging all the instruments so that they sound natural in the arrangement. If you don’t know much about horn arrangements, this could become mission impossible. If you have at least some basic knowledge, it is still a time consuming task.
Smart Voicing Technology
Smart Voicing Technology is a script that generates full chords from the melody you played with your right hand in a key based on the chord progression you play at the same time with your left hand. So, with those chords you are telling the script the exact key to properly harmonize the whole horn ensemble. The most interesting fact is that the Straight Ahead Jazz Horns engine even recognizes more exotic chords, not just major, minor, seventh and such like. The end result mostly depends on the ensemble you use, ranging from just Trumpet ensemble through Pop ensemble to the complete Horn ensemble. All in all there are six different ensembles. Every ensemble also has its own set of voices – for example, Pop ensemble offers Triads, Unison, Octaves and 4-Part close voices. More or less what you need to do is to choose one ensemble, set the voice, play song harmonies with your left hand along with the desired horn melody with your right. Having your MIDI clip prepared, you can experiment with different voices or even completely change ensembles. Actually, I almost spent more time learning how to install Smart Voice technology (as the files for it comes in a separate RAR file) than later recording horn melodies. This doesn’t mean that installing Smart Voice Technology is a time consuming task, it simply means that horn ensemble phrases can be recorded on the fly. All articulations available for separate instruments also work for ensembles in Smart Voice Technology multi patches. The only thing I noticed is that staccato, staccatissimo and quarter note articulations are quieter than legato and sustain. Maybe this is just me and my keyboard, but it would be nice if this could be sorted.
Instruments and Controllers
Of course, Smart Voicing is the most interesting part of the library, but far from being all this instrument/library offers. We also get thirteen solo instruments with additional articulations. Three Trumpets along with additional lead Trumpet, three Trombones again with one additional Lead Trombone, one Alt and one Alt lead saxophone, Tenor and Tenor lead saxophone along with one Baritone Saxophone. All instruments come prerecorded with two different microphone positions with separate level and pan controllers.
Additionally every instrument also has an ADSR section, dynamic and vibrato sliders along with a big array of some quite detailed and unique controllers for further tuning some legato or vibrato details, setting round-robin behavior, or just for coloring the sound (extra dynamic filter, sustain phase align, and so on). Every instrument also has an effect section with Equalizer, Compressor, Delay and Reverb effects along with articulation section where we can even apply different settings for every key-switch, even allowing us to save this setting as a preset.
Impact Soundworks has made controller heaven, but truth be told, every such library relies on overall sound quality and preprogrammed basic behavior, since these two aspects determine if the library is playable or not. If that’s not sorted, all the additional controllers wouldn’t make a difference. Thankfully, this is all taken care of in this library and I really hope I will never have to use those additional options. I’m not a horn player and those basic things are quite enough for my needs, but regarding the demo clips that are presented on Impact Soundworks’ page this library can go quite a bit deeper, recreating quite complex jazz arrangements, so I presume there will be some experts that will be thankful for all those details. (But still I must admit that I’m impressed with the number of functions hidden under various CC messages allowing us to control many details directly from a MIDI clip.)
Smart Voice Technology comes in handy for all horn enthusiasts, while all other single instruments allow horn experts to arrange everything according to their needs. No matter if you need it just for a few brass lines or for fairly complex jazz arrangements, it is more than a good solution. It comes with a decent number of versatile articulations, but I would not complain if there would be one or two more. I miss one that could fit between a Quarter and Staccato articulation (as this one is really short). I like the fact that all articulations can be freely attached to CC or key-switch or even pedal. Baritone sax and trombones have a nice rough, fat attack. Thanks to the round-robin function, faster phrases don’t sound static. All in all, for that money you get thirteen realistic sounding instruments with all the required articulations (there are libraries with more articulations at a significantly higher price, but of course, they don’t offer Smart Voice Technology). Here and there it happens that some particular harmony sounds a bit off to my ear. OK, I’m not a horn player, so this could be a mistake on my side. But no big deal, I change that particular note and everything seems fine. For $249 USD this one’s a bargain. All instruments come in 16- and 24-bit resolution with over 75,000 samples taking around 24 GB of disk space. Ensembles come with pan, level and reverb preset, so all you need to do is play them as they are. If all that is not enough, there is even an option to send harmonies made by Smart Voicing Technology to a MIDI clip, allowing you to use them with some other instrument. Quite a handy tool for spicing up any Rock, Pop, Funk or Jazzy production.
The Straight Ahead Jazz Horns instrument is not my first acquisition from Impact Soundworks. They always find a way to hook me, offering some special method to control most of their instruments, so if you visit their site checking out the info about this product, take some time to discover some of their other libraries and instruments.
More info at https://impactsoundworks.com/product/straight-ahead-jazz-horns/
Straight Ahead Jazz Horns will cost you $249 USD. It is a Kontakt-based instrument that also works with Kontakt Player.
All owners of the previous version of Straight Ahead Jazz Horns can upgrade to this version for $50 USD.