Audio + Acidised WAV / Akai / Roland. **** 4/5 Stars.
As suggested by the title, this collection of sample loops is dominated by keyboard phrases, and the liner notes indicate that the loops are aimed at producers of dance, hip-hop, R&B, pop, funk and electronica. Michael Bearden, the musician responsible for Keys To The City, has playing credits with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Destiny's Child, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Ricky Martin and, as you might expect from this list, the standard of the playing is extremely high.
The loops are split into five categories: The Bassment, The Studio, Duplex, Triplex and The Penthouse. Across these five categories are around 130 construction-kit loop sets, giving a total of some 500 individual audio loops to mix and match. The 'Bassment' category consists of 24 single bass loops in varying tempos and keys, many of which were composed to match other loops within the library, while the Studio category contains 25 single keyboard loops.
The material gets more construction-kit oriented in the Duplex category since this contains 25 paired keyboard parts that are designed to work together and individually. The Triplex and Penthouse categories expand on this format by offering three- and four-part construction kits (27 and 32 respectively). In both Akai and Acid formats, a full-mix version is also provided to help with auditioning. The loops themselves vary in length but many are four or eight bars long. Given the subtle variations within these longer phrases, they're perhaps less likely to appear obviously 'looped' when used within a complete musical arrangement.
In terms of style, the loops would certainly work well in a dance, pop, funk and R&B context. Many of the loops have a funky feel and there's also a jazz element in some of the playing. The vast majority of the phrases have been played live, with very few synth-generated arpeggio patterns. The collection is dominated by hand-played chord arpeggios (both major and minor), but there's also a decent mix of pad and lead-line phrases. The over-riding sense is of slick, well-crafted and well-produced song elements — it's all very Stevie Wonder (with whom Bearden has also played), with nothing too threatening, but with an excellent feel. And it's easy to imagine 'lurve' lyrics comfortably sitting over the top of these musical phrases! The keyboard sounds used are equally classy. While there's a good dose of Rhodes and Clavi-based loops, there's also an excellent mix of other sorts of textures — but again, don't expect anything too extreme as this isn't buzzing chainsaw-synth territory.
One of the dangers of the construction-kit format is that users simply recreate the original recording by combining each loop within a particular kit. However, the fact that the playing style here has a consistent feel to it is an advantage since it makes it very easy to mix and match loops between the different construction kits. With the addition of a suitable drum loop library, it would be fairly easy to put together the basic elements of a complete track using Keys To The City. Add a little funky guitar and a classic R&B vocal and the result could easily grace any mainstream US radio playlist. Perhaps this isn't a sample library for those looking for something very experimental, but it's great for anyone looking for that polished, professional, funky R&B feel.
Akai S2000/3000 or Roland CD-ROM £119; audio + WAV £79.95. Prices include VAT.
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