You may not know them by name, but you've certainly heard their music. Wayne Jackson (sax) and Andrew Love (trumpet and trombone) have played together for more than 30 years as the Memphis Horns, contributing to some 300 hit records along the way. Among their many impressive credits are Aretha Franklin's “Respect,” Peter Gabriel's “Sledgehammer,” Sam and Dave's “Soul Man,” and U2's “Angel of Harlem.” You can get more information about Jackson and Love on their Web site, www.memphishorns.com.
Ilio Entertainments brings the Memphis Horns' legendary sound to your sampler. Memphis Horns is available as a two-disc set with both audio and WAV formats ($149) and also as a five-disc set that adds three Akai S3000 CD-ROMs ($299). The S3000 version is also compatible with E-mu EOS, Kurzweil, GigaSampler, EXS 24, HALion, and Kontakt formats.
Memphis Horns includes various hits, swells, and effects, and it emphasizes complete phrases. There are 153 selections in all, ranging in tempo from 70 to 140 bpm. Each phrase is presented in five keys, and most phrases offer the same assortment of keys (C, Eь, F, G, and Bь), making it relatively easy to mix and match the different phrases.
While the basic phrases remain the same in all keys, their specific voicings often change. Apparently, Jackson and Love work out their arrangements without detailed charts. Perhaps they altered the voicings to better fit the tonal ranges of their instruments, or maybe they just wanted to try something different. Either way, the variations provide a welcome organic quality.
Doubling is a characteristic of the Memphis Horns sound, and many tracks are overdubbed two, three, or even four times for multiple sax, trumpet, and trombone lines. The resulting blend is warm, sweet, and soulful. As I listened to the discs, the words smooth and effortless kept coming to mind. Of course, this is the kind of effortlessness that only comes from decades of hard work!
The phrases themselves run the gamut from moody to move your feet. Some of my favorites on the slow side include the flowing, liquid melody of Honesty (70 bpm); the smooth, lilting groove of Ruff (80 bpm); and the gentle, relaxed slides of Red (90 bpm). In the up-tempo category, I particularly appreciate the easy, brisk sax groove of Class (100 bpm); the staccato punch of Motor (100 bpm); the chugging motion of Express (120 bpm); and the sweet, uplifting sixths of Pages (140 bpm).
I tried seasoning a dance-music track with a dose of Memphis Horns. Luckily for me, the song was already in the key of C — one of the keys used for most of the disc's phrases. Through trial and error, I figured out which samples were in C major and which were in C minor. The documentation includes tonic keys, but no major or minor designations; Ilio felt that listing major and minor keys would limit the user's perception of the phrases. All but one sample fell instantly into the groove; that last one needed a bit of massaging before it locked in, even though the stated tempo was the same.
As I've come to expect from Ilio products, the material is well organized, with phrases neatly sorted by tempo. The documentation is attractive and filled with entertaining background info. However, I would prefer to see a little more information on the samples themselves, such as whether the keys are minor or major and whether rhythms are straight or swung. It would also be helpful to have key information included in the WAV file names, which are instead merely designated 1 through 5.
These small quibbles aside, Memphis Horns is a joy to work with. These guys have great feel, fabulous tone, and a classic melodic sense. Moreover, the recordings are beautifully done. Jackson and Love liken their work to finishing off a recipe with salt and pepper. For adding a quick dash of soulful brass, this set is just the ticket.