On hearing about the sheer size of the recent Vienna Symphonic Library and upcoming Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra, some sound companies quietly shelved their plans for new orchestral sample projects, but not so the SAM team. These cheerful Dutch samplists compete by offering high-quality, specialised orchestral samples at a reasonable price. Following their excellent SAM Horns title comes a Giga set dedicated to a three-trombone section, augmented by a fruity solo bass trombone. As with the four French horns, the samples were performed in the concert hall of Utrecht Conservatory and recorded simultaneously from close and far mic positions, thereby offering the user a choice of perspectives. For me, it's a no-brainer; wallowing in the concert hall's flattering acoustic, the 'far' samples sound big, fulsome and expensive, making the close versions sound rather clinical by comparison.
My standard complaint about orchestral samples is that long notes aren't looped, so I'm glad to report that SAM have sidestepped this gripe by looping the three trombones' sustained notes. Another common criticism is lack of power, but that's not a problem either — the players really let rip with their loud notes, producing forceful samples which are given extra rasp and penetration by the hall acoustic.
These ff foghorn blasts are balanced by quieter, more subtle performances, giving a wide dynamic range throughout. The sustain programs incorporate four nicely graded dynamic layers, all played with decent tuning and good ensemble co-ordination. 'Diminuendo' sustains have a stronger attack, followed by a slight decrescendo. The most emphatic attacks come from the short notes, which comprise powerful, four-dynamic staccatos and staccatissimos (in a choice of three alternative takes) and three different lengths of marcato. Muted sustained notes produce an alternative, rather nasal timbre.
Short, medium and flutter-tongue crescendos, along with useful 'mod wheel cross fade' programs, offer great scope for dynamic variation and expression. Changing-note samples are represented by some vigorous comedy glissandos (which briskly slide a semitone up to a short note), and, as on SAM Horns, a collection of upward legato intervals of a minor third, major third, fourth and fifth, played at between 65 and 75 bpm — rainy day material. All these performances have alternative takes for most samples.
Beret-sporting avant-gardists will take masochistic pleasure from the substantial selection of random-sounding 'cluster' chords. These are performed in sustained, staccato and flutter-tongue styles, producing that vague, nihilistic, staring-at-the-wall feeling. The existentialist mood continues with a clutch of abstract, improvised ensemble slides and 'textures' which would work a treat in a Czechoslovakian art film, but probably not on a Gareth Gates track.
If I heard any of the mysteriously-named 'FX' and 'Spheres' sounds actually emanating from a trombone I would be concerned for the player's sanity, but it turns out these haunting alien noises are processed versions of some of the samples. Such beautiful, imaginative sound-morphing takes us deep into Twisted Textures territory, a delightful, creative and unexpected detour from the straight orchestral agenda. Another fabulous bonus are thunderous staccato notes on an 'ambient bass piano', a Yamaha concert grand which happened to be in the concert hall. When layered in octaves with the trombones' low notes it makes the ground shake, producing a classic suspense or horror film racket.
As well as these extra treats, SAM have supplied an additional category of 'enhanced' samples, which are simply the 'far' recordings with a little added high EQ. Though the effect is fine, the tonal difference is negligible, and it seems pointless duplicating 700MB of samples to deliver it when users could easily add a bit of top themselves. A Lite Edition of the library (which omits the bass trombone, piano and 'close' recordings) is available, consisting of the enhanced set plus a limited selection of processed 'FX' samples.
SAM's trombone trio have a wide three-octave span from C2 to C5. A solo bass trombone extends this compass down to F1, performing unlooped sustains, two types of marcato and staccato notes. The bass instrument matches the three-trombone ensemble for power and precision — my only regret is that we didn't get two bass trombones playing in unison to make that classic '60s big band sound!
The next logical step for this company would be to return to the same concert hall and record a trumpet section and a tuba, thus completing the standard orchestral brass line-up. On the evidence of the two existing titles, such a trilogy would be hard to beat. But whatever their future plans, SAM have already laid a solid foundation by achieving a big, punchy, cinematic orchestral brass sound, certain to be appreciated and enjoyed by many samplists.