Ukulele Free Agent founder Luca Tomassini is a multi-instrumentalist who has developed a passion for the Ukulele, and now offers a selection of low-cost Ukulele construction kits and loops covering a variety of genres. The products we are looking at here are Oldies Uke, Tropical Uke, Folk Uke and Kalakaua Ave Sessions, all of which come as 16-bit, 44.1kHz WAV, REX 2 and Apple Loops files. Each kit has a Complete Pack option, but there is also the option of purchasing individual folders, which is great for those who know exactly what they are after.
The most expensive kit is the Folk Uke collection, which comprises seven folders of loops and one of single chords. In each folder the loops share the same rhythm and tempo so that they can be chained to make a song. Titles such as Lazy, Quiet and Gentle Country leave one in little doubt as to how laid-back most of the material is, while the Plain Swing folder’s riffs are very reminiscent of Labi Siffre’s intro to ‘It Must Be Love’.
Oldies Uke incorporates ragtime-, swing- and jazz-influenced material but focuses on quirky riffs rather than flashy finger-picking.
Kalakaua Avenue is a main thoroughfare of the Waikiki neighbourhood of Honolulu, and Luca’s Kalakaua Ave Sessions is an attempt to capture that Hawaiian feel. It includes loop folders titled Waikiki Blues, Relaxing On The Beach, Hawaiian Pop and Under The Palm Trees, as well as 31 single-chord WAVs, which are very useful general-purpose samples. The kit’s loops have been played with a great deal of precision and real gusto. In particular, the Hawaiian Pop loops feature a percussive play-and-slap technique, which is executed extremely well, and the Under The Palm Trees’ loops display some seamless rag-style bar finger slides.
Tropical Uke is not dissimilar to Kalakaua Ave Sessions in terms of feel. Overall, the playing is exuberant and exact, and once again there are some handy single chords, lots of slap-and-play loops and some expertly executed slides.
From a technical point of view, it has to be said that not all of the Free Agent loops are totally clean. Some very low-level background noise, possibly from a computer, can be heard as samples tail off, and there is the odd crackle of distortion and rattle of Ukulele. Also, some loops end in a slight click where the waveform has not been cut at a zero-crossing point. On the plus side, however, updates are free, so customers can re-download anything they previously bought whenever additions and adjustments are made to the range, rather like a piece of software.
Luca’s sample-editing and recording techniques may not be perfect, but his ukulele playing is very good and always tight, and his setup has brought out the warmth of the instrument without losing its characteristic toppy tone.
I can certainly imagine some of these samples being used in quirky advertisement tunes where something simple and up front is needed to grab the viewers’ attention, and bearing in mind how little Luca is asking us to pay, jobbing composers should have no reason not to add these ukulele packs to their library. Tom Flint
Prices from €2.50