Big Fish Audio | Sound On Sound Dave Stewart | First Call Horns Product Review
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First Call Horns | Sound On Sound

Reviewer: Dave Stewart | Rating: 4 out of 5 Back to First Call Horns product details

Sampled pop horns were popular during the '80s and '90s, but recently orchestral brass libraries have dominated the market, leaving those needing pop, rock, and jazz brass samples out in the cold. Big Fish Audio aim to raise the temperature of these poor shivering souls by releasing the defiantly pop-orientated First Call Horns. This 1.5GB library's dry studio acoustic can be sweetened by adding a splash of Kontakt's built-in reverb. Most instruments come in a choice of solo or stereo section formats, the latter (which sound like unison duos) producing a lusher, broader sound than the mono solo instruments. None of the samples are looped.

Pop brass needs good saxophone samples, and Big Fish's baritone sax is the star of the show - big, honky, and in your face, perfect for dirty low-end riffs or for punctuating Tamla bass lines. The alto sax's intimate, breathy quiet notes are also particularly attractive. On the minus side, there's a big, jarringly obvious change in timbre between the alto and tenor saxes' quiet and loud notes, and the soprano and baritone instruments are single dynamic. However, being able to keyswitch instantly between vibrato and non-vibrato notes restores some expressive potential.

The solo trumpet's large array of attention-grabbing big-band mannerisms (long and short falls, 'doits', leery shakes, vicious razor-sharp staccato stabs, and so on) provides a stark contrast to the inhibited delivery of most orchestral players. The use of Harmon, cup, and plunger mutes takes us deeper into Miles/Louis Armstrong jazz territory. If you want subtlety, the mellow-sounding flugelhorn and stopped French horn employ a tasteful, understated vibrato, but if you don't, the trombone's vibrato notes are satisfyingly over the top. One nice, unexpected extra is the no-frills piccolo trumpet, which belts out some good, pure-sounding loud sustains.

The Improvs & Riffs section of the library is a big selling point, boasting over 1000 jazzy solo performances played by trumpet and trombone (with and without mutes), flugelhorn, soprano, and tenor sax. The blowing is fluid, free, inventive, and highly varied, featuring bebop-style lines, wasp-in-a-bottle note flurries, extended melodies, melancholic soft phrases, screaming high notes, and a few effects. No keys or tempos are listed, but with a lot of patience and a little retuning, this gigantic grab-bag of horn improvisations will yield great musical results.

First Call Horns' instruments work together to create a realistic, versatile pop/rock brass-section sound. The samples are less well suited to replicating the subtle inflections, tonal detail, and smooth legato transitions of an expressive solo melody line - that requires a more forensic sampling approach. But if you're in the market for fat, powerful brass chord pads, swells, stabs, and falls, as well as a tremendous stock of jazzy licks, you could do a lot worse than this title, available now from your local Big Fishmonger. Dave Stewart

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