Keyfax's Twiddly Bits soundware has a very respectable track record in the market of producing MIDI files for general use by programmers and writers alike. You are supplied with a 3.5‑inch floppy disk containing bundles of short phrases, drum patterns, fills, and chord progressions ready to be loaded into your MIDI sequencer, either as a springboard for your own song ideas or so that you can sneakily pass off the competently performed series of solos and keyboard licks as your own playing. Volume Nine in the series, Jazz, takes four main instrumental styles associated with jazz performance (Drums, Bass, Electric and Acoustic Pianos) and supplies you with tons of short MIDI files containing versatile phrases, loops and grooves.
As the wonderful demo song file shows, this release covers an astonishingly wide range of jazz tempos and styles, from cheesy ballroom to cool latin and frantic acid jazz. It is also clear that the programmers and performers used on this release have an enviable understanding of jazz expression, rhythm and harmony, which they have translated smoothly into the often stilted and musically tepid domain of the General MIDI module.
In most cases, the phrases are played in C, leaving you with plenty of scope to transpose the parts to fit your track, and most usually work out being between two and four bars long. The phrases are naturally designed to be used in connection with a GM module or soundcard, and in this context they work fine; however, it's when you use them with more exciting sound sources, such as a sampler or dedicated synth module, that their real musical potential is unlocked. The bass lines are of particular note in this respect, and are all tightly performed (via a real MIDI bass guitar) with just the right amounts of pitch‑bend, modulation and expression. Fused with a great acoustic bass multisample, they would probably convince even jazz purists that they were listening to the real thing.
The laid‑back, almost sloppy electric pianos are equally impressive, and are played with loads of thick chordal movement and sensitivity, and both the electric and acoustic piano solo phrases simply ooze attitude. I can imagine these latter files in particular will be real life‑saver for the less technically able player looking for an inspirational bolt of realism in, say, the middle eight of a track.
The drum patterns, though very convincing, occasionally suffer from sounding as if they have been quantised a little too tightly. That aside, the selection of drum performances is authentic and, of course, offers the user the chance to tweak and add any elements that you feel might be missing on the original files.
Finally, even the sleeve notes are faultless; each file is listed with appropriate harmonic and stylistic information, as well as a few tips on how to place the parts within a track and ideas on possible sound types. With such an immaculately performed and logically put together soundware product, anyone looking for a touch of jazz inspiration can't possibly lose. Paul Farrer