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Garritan Jazz and Big Band review


Better-quality sample libraries may exist, but at nowhere near this price and they're rarely this comprehensive or accessible

Review Date: 12 May 2006

Price when reviewed: (£143 ex VAT)

Reviewed By: Jonathan Wilson

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Having established his Personal Orchestra collection as arguably the premier high-quality, low-cost orchestral sample library, Gary Garritan has now worked similar wonders for the jazz and big band community.

While this may appear to be something of a niche market, each instrument can be used individually or as part of a user-defined ensemble, so there's considerable scope for their wider application in all styles of music.

This is the world's first and, so far, only jazz and big band library and with more than 50 instruments included at a price that most musicians can easily afford, it's going to take some beating. The collection consists of 11 trumpets, five trombones, every single member of the saxophone family (16 in total, including some most people will never have heard of), six woodwind instruments (flutes, clarinets, a tuba), a Steinway piano, a vintage electric piano, a vibraphone, an accordion, several guitars, six basses, three drum kits (including brush kits with some terrific, tempo-sensitive, programmable snare stirs) and a whole host of percussion.

Using your preferred combination of these instruments, it's easy to pull together a convincing recording. However, it's worth taking the time to learn how best to play the various instruments to achieve the utmost realism from your performances.

Obviously, you'd approach playing a trombone differently to an acoustic bass or even a saxophone, so subtly varying your performance and using your keyboard's mod wheel (and expression pedal) to incorporate tongue and slur articulations, intonation variations, vibrato, breath noises, note bending, velocity, trills, the use of mutes and so on can all help introduce those subtle nuances that elevate a sample-based Midi recording above the stilted and mundane.

Yes, you might actually have to read the manual, but it's interesting enough, with a list of controls for every instrument alongside essays on jazz and useful tips on arranging. In terms of creating ensembles, a solid collection of Multi files is also included so you can quickly call up, say, a jazz quintet or big band rhythm section to get you started.

The great thing about using this library is that the performance and recording is all about you - there are no loops and no predefined time-stretching, pitch-shifting melodies. It's a product for musicians: whatever melody you hear in your head, you can lay it down and have it sound entirely realistic. Frankly, hearing some of the brilliant jazz playing on the demo pages makes us wish we could play better.

It's as useful a collection for the pop/rock producer looking to add brass stabs or sax solos to their work as it is for anyone looking to write jazz or big band-style spots for TV and film work, never mind the student of jazz looking to hone their arranging chops or the established jazz/big band composer who wants to hear how their work-in-progress sounds.

There's very little to dislike about Garritan Jazz and Big Band. Some instruments simply sound better than others (sampled guitars never really work that well), although a little judicious tweaking using either the Kontakt player's controls or your preferred EQ is usually sufficient to polish a lacklustre tone. The Kontakt sample player is also quite demanding: to get the best out of it - in other words, to run eight-part ensembles successfully - a G5 Mac is recommended, preferably with as much RAM as you can muster. The Kontakt audio engine draws on your computer's native processing power, so the faster the better.

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