A month before unleashing MA4, OT broke with tradition by announcing their first non‑orchestral collection. Rejoicing under the name of Glory Days Big Band Horns (which we'll shorten to the unpronounceable GDBBH), the library provides a standard big band line-up of four trumpets, three tenor trombones, bass trombone, two alto and two tenor saxophones and a baritone sax — a total of 13 individually recorded solo instruments. The samples were performed at the Teldex Scoring Stage by Berlin session musicians seated in their normal playing positions; Orchestral Tools used their standard multi‑mic setup, with vintage ribbon mics added for an alternative close position.
For sheer power and attack, these horns take some beating. I was struck by the trumpets' heroic, blazing marcatos and incisive sforzandos — the latter is an unmistakeable, classic and dramatic big band delivery, consisting of a loud, sharp attack followed by an immediate decrease in volume, then a quick crescendo surge. Other effects include 'doit' (pronounced 'doyt', an indignant rising shriek appended to the end of a note), long and short falls, short ascending bends, scoops (a slower bend up with a greater travel) and shakes, that archetypal, in-your-face, braying big band trill style which I hope never to hear performed at a funeral.
Having four different trumpet players at your disposal is a great resource. These guys are good players: the first trumpet (designated the lead voice) has a bright and commanding tone, the second uses a slightly slower attack, while the third is positively explosive, strident and aggressive. Nominally the lowest voice, the fourth trumpet is assertive and consistently well played across its range — you're really spoiled for choice here. While any of these guys can carry a solo lead line with panache, layering them together creates a hugely powerful section sound.
The three tenor trombones exhibit similar subtle tonal differences, with player number three sounding the most forceful. Played with no vibrato, the bass trombone sounds big, fat and warm down to its bottom note of E1 (an octave lower than the tenors). While the trombones' bends and scoops feature a semitone slide up, there's no descending equivalent — it's too bad more trombone slide effects aren't included. On a more positive note, I know I often carp about tuning discrepancies, but credit where credit's due: trombone 1's sustains are almost supernaturally in tune.
GDBBH's extensive selection of trumpet and trombone mutes is a highlight of this library. The intriguingly-named bucket mute imparts a softer, warm and horn-like timbre; the cup mute sound cutting and tonally attenuated, while the Harmon mute produces the iconic, metallic, thin and buzzy Miles Davis trumpet sound. You can use the plunger mute for wah-wah effects, or dial up the Solotone mute for that very thin, tiny gnat-like sound heard on 1920s jazz records.
By virtue of their smooth, unbroken timbre, saxophones are a bugger to sample. Orchestral Tools' excellent 'Adaptive Legato' technique provides a happy solution: it smoothes note transitions beautifully and automatically adjusts to your playing speed, switching between slow and fast legato transitions on the fly with no user programming required. Consequently, fast runs and melodies on GDBBH's saxes sound fabulous. In addition, three different staccato styles cover every short-note requirement from accented section stabs to tight and punchy staccatissimos.
Each of the alto and tenor sax's secondary players has a somewhat harder tone than his partner; alto 1 sounds lyrical and fairly mellow, while tenor 1's 'slow espressivo' legato style is great for slow, sultry melodies. The baritone sax is versatile, handling expressive lead lines, fast runs and booting Tamla Motown staccato bass lines with equal aplomb. In addition to long and short crescendos, the saxes also play some handy long and short swells.
This collection offers six mic positions: Spot, Close I, Close II, A/B (high stage mics), Decca Tree and Surround. Hall reverb is apparent in all of them, so while the default combination of Close I and Tree matches the concert hall acoustic of Orchestral Tools' other libraries, you might want to use the drier Spot position for a more intimate club or room sound.
Some general observations: highly dynamic and covering an enormous tonal range, GDBBH is a veritable feast of jazz horn timbres. Each instrument's multi-articulation patches hold up to 12 keyswitchable artics and you can add legato transitions to any style — since the articulation menu is consistent from instrument to instrument, you can easily interchange or layer parts. Vibrato and non‑vibrato performances are switchable on the fly via MIDI CC3: the vibrato delivery sounds most at home in a jazz context, while non-vibrato works a treat on the brass instruments for orchestral settings, regal fanfares and cinematic brass salvoes.
Only one downer: there's no rhythm section. I was disappointed to see that bass and drums are not provided, particularly since the online demos feature a cool-sounding drum kit and stand-up bass! Glory Days Big Band Horns (75.4GB installed) requires the full version of Kontakt 5.8.1 and above.
You pays your money (quite a lot of it in this case) and you takes your choice. If you need orchestral samples, MA4 is a good bet: highly dynamic throughout, its attacking string sections, unique colourful blended winds, small choirs and percussion can cover all the moods and timbres we're used to hearing in today's orchestrations, and a few more besides.
As regards Glory Days Big Band Horns, I'm pleased to say Orchestral Tools' maiden voyage into hitherto unexplored jazz waters is a rip-roaring success. Its comprehensive instrumentation, large articulation list, multiple mute types and excellent interval legato sampling combine to create a memorably playable set of instruments which nail the big band sound perfectly.
While the kind of chamber-sized string sections and unpitched percussion found in MA4 appear in a number of other orchestral collections, nothing on the market matches its unique wind combinations and tuned percussion line-ups. That said, one library in the same general ballpark is Spitfire Audio's Bernard Herrmann Composer Toolkit: though lacking a choir and recorded in a drier studio acoustic, it covers the orchestral basics and features some interesting instrumentation, including small sections of mixed woodwinds and brass.
Alternative libraries containing a comprehensive big band horns line-up include Chris Hein Horns Pro Complete, Impact Soundworks Straight Ahead Jazz Horns, Fable Sounds Broadway Big Band, Vir2 Instruments Mojo Horn Section and the affordable Garritan Jazz & Big Band. Though lacking some solo instrument options, Project SAM's Swing More! library covers the same stylistic area.
Most of GDBBH's sustain and legato patches have falls and doits you can throw in at the end of a note. To trigger these effects you have to insert either a MIDI Soft Release control change (CC15) or a silent MIDI keyswitch note in your sequence at the required moment.
I found the latter method to be the easiest — to do it, click on the Kontakt GUI's Controller Table View, select 'Soft Release' and set 'note' to a pitch just below the playable range of the instrument (eg. C2 for a trumpet). Hold down that key, play a melody note, and the effect will sound on note release.
- MA4 contains unique woodwind and brass blends and its string sections have a great, aggressive attack.
- Glory Days provides complete, highly playable wind instrumentation for jazz big band charts.
- Both were recorded in a great‑sounding hall from multiple mic positions.
- MA4's low strings' built-in low octave muddies mid-range chords.
- Given its price, Glory Days really ought to include a rhythm section.
Designed as the attacking front line of the Metropolis orchestra, Metropolis Ark 4 adds energy, edge, aggression and focus, while introducing unique and distinctive colours to the symphonic mix. This highly dynamic collection comprises combative chamber-sized string sections, unique wind ensembles, small choirs, percussion and drums. For jazz, dance hall, swing and big band arrangements, Glory Days Big Band Horns provides a complete, supremely playable instrumentation of 13 brass and wind instruments, played straight and with a variety of mutes in a large number of articulations. Recorded from identical mic positions at the illustrious Teldex Scoring Stage, both libraries blend perfectly with Orchestral Tools' other collections.
Metropolis Ark 4 €658.80, Glory Days Big Band Horns €718.80. Prices include VAT.
Metropolis Ark 4 €549, Glory Days Big Band Horns €599.