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electronic MUSICIAN

BIG FISH AUDIO

By Marty Cutler | July 1, 2006

For some musicians, creating music from preordained riffs is antithetical to the very concept of jazz. Nevertheless, even if you don't create improvised music (the core signature of jazz) from a sample set, you can certainly capture some of its flavor. That's because jazz has a unique harmonic, rhythmic, and sonic stamp that distinguishes it from most other types of music. Big Fish Audio's Jazz Quartet ($99.95) gathers characteristic grooves and phrases in a construction-kit collection that has WAV, REX, and Apple Loops versions on a single DVD-ROM.

By providing distinctive grooves and phrases played by live musicians, Big Fish Audio''s Jazz Quartet captures the essence of the postbebop style.

The collection's subtitle, Traditional Jazz Construction Kits, might suggest the music of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and other purveyors of early jazz styles. In reality, the disc focuses on the modern-sounding, postbebop style that emerged during the mid-to-late '60s, with elements of Grant Green, Horace Silver, and others.

Jazz Quartet's musical phrases cover many textures and moods. Although the included PDF document gives you a list of file keys and tempos, having more information would be helpful. Other than the 16-bit Apple Loops, all the tracks are 24-bit, 44.1 kHz files. I tested the Apple Loops in Apple Logic Pro 7.1, and the WAV files in Ableton Live 5.02. I checked REX-format files in Propellerhead Reason 2.5 and converted and loaded them into Spectrasonics Stylus RMX 1.5 to good effect.

On the DVD, folders divide their content by file format. Except for the REX-format folder, files follow an identical organizational layout. Tempo and key subfolders hold variation subfolders (also grouped by tempo and key) containing one file for each of the four instruments: bass, drums, guitar, and piano. Along with the individual instruments, you get a fully mixed stereo file. The REX-format folder groups everything by instrument first, with subfolders gathered by key and tempo.

Phrase Shifters

Tempos range from a laid-back 52 bpm to 148 bpm, but the Apple Loops and REX versions adapt nicely to tempo changes without any noticeable time-stretching artifacts. However, the more freely phrased material inherent in jazz will inhibit how far you can alter tempos, because the looseness can sound exaggerated at tempos over 20 bpm above or below the original.

As relaxed as the playing is, the groove between the musicians is strong. Drums combine loose-limbed stick and brush work, and the bass parts are tuneful, swinging, and dynamic. The guitar comping is warm and varied without getting in the way of the groove. Occasionally, the piano parts are a tad too active, as if the musician couldn't decide whether to play lead or accompaniment. For the most part, though, the pianist plays excellent rhythmic accompaniments and peppers the parts with an occasional funky flourish.

After putting the REX files through their paces in Reason 2.5's Dr:rex, I converted them to Stylus RMX format and added a changing, improvisational touch with RMX's Chaos Designer feature. Although Chaos Designer could potentially have wreaked havoc by unnaturally truncating some of the looser feels, most of the files translated nicely. In a few instances, a quick tweak of the amplitude envelopes in the RMX plug-in smoothed out playback. A few tracks suffered from a bit of leakage from other instruments, but adding other tracks easily masked the problem.

Close Enough for Jazz

In Jazz Quartet, the parts are greater than their sum. Taken individually, the grooves and comping are terrific. The drums, bass, and guitar parts are easily worth the modest price. As a construction kit, however, the more-active piano parts tend to restrict the music, and presumably you'd want to create your own melodies and solos. Still, there's a lot to appreciate here. Although many recordings of the postbebop era have already been musically strip-mined for sampled funk clichés, Jazz Quartet commendably avoids such stereotypical feels and lets you mix and match the instruments in true construction-kit style for more variety. If you're intent on re-creating the feel of classic jazz of the '60s, make sure to check this one out.


Value (1 through 5): 3
Big Fish Audio
www.bigfishaudio.com

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