There was a time in the 1970s when jazz, funk, and R&B became reacquainted, resulting in a rhythmic and earthy style of music that was bolstered by some of the harmonic sophistication and ambiguities of jazz. Undoubtedly, the instrumentation and analog recordings helped shape a unique and atmospheric sound that relied on real Wurlitzer electric pianos, rounder and fatter-sounding kicks and snares, an unabashed use of analog signal processors, a healthy appetite for dissonance, and the use of supple grooves. ELab's Smokers Delight ($99.95) hearkens back to that time before digital synths and quantizing.
The three-CD set includes an audio CD for auditioning files and two CD-ROMs filled with REX and Acidized WAV files of drum loops, short instrumental phrases, and single-hit drum samples, such as kicks, snares, and hi-hats. Each folder on the first CD-ROM mingles the REX and WAV files associated with a song motif; the second CD-ROM carries a grab bag of compatible REX- and WAV-file loops and single-instrument hits.
In essence, all of the featured songs are loops, but the inherent flexibility of REX files lets you milk plenty of variation from smaller phrases. At first, the combination of formats may seem confusing — until you understand that the REX and WAV files are meant to be layered as individual track components. The instrumental phrases are not provided as REX files, but the WAV-file instrumental phrases are mostly short snippets that you can often move around in much the same way you can the REX-file constituents.
The Smokers Delight files are imbued with a jazzy, hip-hop attitude; wah-wah guitar, Rhodes or Wurlitzer electric piano, and muted trumpet obbligatos add jazz and funk flavor. Many of the loops sound as though they were lifted from vinyl — right down to the accompanying pops and crackles. Noisy though they may be, the strength of these audio files is their atmospheric quality. Some people may like the vinyl ambience; I feel that vinyl noise carries the digital musician's fetish for analog artifacts a bit over the edge. I would prefer to have the noise in a separate audio file. Then you could use it, lose it, or mix it to taste.
I especially like “Homeys,” with its Miles-like muted trumpet; subtle turntable scratches; bluesy, upper-register piano fills; and lightly swinging hi-hats. “Jellos” is similarly treated with muted trumpet but adds more dissonant keyboard comping for a much edgier, more “outside” tonality that clearly illustrates the difference between early '70s funk-jazz and the mostly pale attempts to reproduce it in today's smooth jazz.
I tested the tracks in MOTU Digital Performer 4.1 as well as in Propellerhead Reason 2.5. The files opened in Reason's Dr.Rex player without a hitch; opening the files in Digital Performer required dragging them to the hard disk and using a file-typing application to change the file's Creator to ReCy and its Type to REX2. (According to MOTU, this problem has been fixed in version 4.12, a free update.) A minor gripe is that the file names don't differentiate between mono and stereo; that bit of information could be helpful during production.
The Smokers Delight documentation and organization is helpful, but it falls a bit short. The audio CD plays each complete motif followed by its component files, and it covers much of the first CD-ROM. Unfortunately, it omits the 300 bonus samples on the first disc and all of the samples on the second CD-ROM. Considering the sheer number of files in this set, a second audio CD would have made a nice addition. The documentation lists every folder on the CD-ROMs, and all of the files are numbered consecutively, showing the instrument names and base tempos.
The things that I love about this collection tip the scales in favor of a hearty recommendation. Rarely have I heard a collection that evokes so much of the vibe and sound of the era of funk-jazz hybrids by Stevie Wonder, Creed Taylor, and others. The sheer preponderance of great loops combined with a price tag of less than $100 makes this library a terrific value. If you want to fill your sampler or loop-sequencing software with vital, authentic-sounding funk of the '70s, be sure to check out Smokers Delight.