***** 5/5 stars. Format: AKAI S5000 / EXS24 / GIGA
In the early days of sampling, sampled bass guitars always seemed to have an attitude problem; they were either squeaky-clean and thoroughly limp, or clanky and over-aggressive. Happily, bass libraries began to sound a lot more acceptable in recent years, so I was interested to see how this pair of titles from respected German developers Yellow Tools would shape up.
The samples (roughly 2.3GB per volume, all mono) were played by a chap called UMBO. The name suggests a circus background, but it turns out your man is an Austrian session bassist whose nickname stands for 'Unidentified Moving Bass Object'. Despite the odd monicker, UMBO is clearly a man of discernment: he talks animatedly in his sleeve notes about dynamics and tone, musical items about which many British bassists know nothing.
Volume 1 of this low-frequency, high-fidelity extravaganza features two classic instruments, the Fender Jazz and Fender Precision basses. I went for the Jazz's fingered style and was rewarded with a cleanly recorded, bright but fat-sounding sampled bass. The long notes are a keyboard player's dream; they sustain well, decay naturally and slip gracefully into perfectly programmed, low-level loops. This means you can hold down notes indefinitely without the fear of any suddenly disappearing.
The Jazz bass short 'eighth notes' are effective for pumping 120-130bpm rhythmic passages, sounding more convincing than the long notes played short (if you get my meaning). I also enjoyed the Jazz bass' slapped and popped performances, which are clean and powerful without going over the top. Armed with these and my trusty pitch wheel, I was soon whipping out those Seinfeld funky licks.
A quick comparison of the Jazz and Precision basses shows the former to have a sharper, more percussive attack, but the latter has a purer, balanced singing tone suitable for melodies, especially in its upper range. The Precision contributes no slapping or popping, but its fingered samples do offer a nice additional 'mute' category. Both instruments come in 'pick mute' versions (great for recreating that classic '50s pop bass sound); the Precision's picked sustains are long, resonant and super-clean.
Volume 2 contains three basses: an Ibanez BTB five-string, a Warwick Streamer Stage 1 fretless and an Epiphone Jack Cassidy (no relation to David) Signature model — truly, er, names to savour. The Ibanez has a darker tone than the Fender basses on Volume 1, but rivals them for sustain and offers a pleasantly clear, slightly nasal attack that works well for mid-to-high range chords. Its slapped performances are bright, cutting and quite heavy at the bottom end.
While the straight sustains of the Warwick fretless are usable and its slides a definite asset, I was less than convinced by UMBO's fretless vibrato perfomances, which have all the charmless wobble and questionable intonation of a pub singer at closing time. Fortunately, ol' Hopalong Cassidy rides to the rescue on his hollow-bodied Epiphone, seeing off the baddies with some deep, throbbing muted notes, perfect for a bit of rock & roll, rhythm & blues, country & western, or whatever archaic style takes your fancy.
In the interests of realism and flexibility, our bassist has thoughtfully provided a complete second set of programs with alternative fingerings, so you're free to choose whether the note of B1 is played on the seventh fret of the 'E' string or the second fret of the 'A' string. He also turns in innumerable performance variations throughout both volumes: 'tap-hammered' samples which provide unusual plucked attacks, quiet, staccato 'ghost notes', hand mutes and 'noise effects' (slapped-style multiple grace notes) and whole regiments of slides: up, down, up and down, fast, slow, you name it — all designed to add variety, expression and dynamic interest. The quest for realism arguably goes too far with the provision of hundreds of string squeak samples, and (I guess as a joke) some sampled mains buzz. Unlike the real thing, the latter can be quickly traced and turned off.
UMBO plays no licks or chords. Nonsensically, the booklet claims that there are 'about 100 velocity splits per note' — in fact, there are generally eight, which is more than enough. There are no straight/slapped note velocity-switch programs, and the basses' lovely harmonics are segregated into three separate programs which are not mapped out chromatically for keyboard players.
Such minor omissions can be overlooked. This bass library basically sounds very good, and benefits from the player's musicality, precise articulation, good tuning (apart from some dodgy fretless vibrato notes) and attention to detail. I heard no distortion — as the title suggests, these are pure DI'd basses with no apparent compression, so if you want excessive EQ, amp noise, speaker hiss, grunge or filth you'll have to add them yourself!
Four-CD sets, £119 each including VAT.