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02 February 2015

TOONTRACK BASIC JAZZ MIDI Review | £19.95 / €25

Jazz great Buddy Rich is said to have said: "I can think of a lot better things to do with my hands than to cut them up on the rim of a drum.” Not only were the words highly relevant in his day, he was almost certainly alluding to the plight of modern-day rhythm programmers' fingers. Possibly.

Hammering away on trigger pads while trying to inject human feel into beats that stray from dancefloor fodder does not happy digits make. The blindingly obvious work-around is to hire a real drummer for authentic performances in jazzy, swinging tracks focused more on love than sex, cars and guns.

If you're not equipped for recording real drums, then tracking an electronic kit with a MIDI sequencer could do the trick.

However, running up basic jazz numbers when alone in the studio demands some clever thinking. And that's what Toontrack has been up to in devising its Basic Jazz MIDI pack.
This latest addition to the developer's MIDI range is billed as an instant-composition tool for those seeking trad-jazz and swing drums, so don't expect to be at the bleeding edge of the experimental.

Toontrack’s own Norman Garschke (pictured), a traditionally trained, masters-level drummer, was tasked with supplying the MIDI performances.

“To me, Jazz drums is about composing in real-time; about staying in the moment and letting yourself go,” says he. To those ends, he’s come up with this lot...

In brief...
• More than 400 individually played drum comping variations
• 3/4 and 4/4 swing patterns in 8 & 16 bar sections
• Ride cymbal variations, snare drum/bass drum comping ideas
• 4/4 walking-time and ‘playing in two’

A cool collection. No excursions into exotic time signatures, just solid standard and triple-time fare with a good many variations for audition in EZdrummer, Superior Drummer 2 or the still relatively new EZdrummer 2. In fact, the best way to assess what’s on offer before buying is to clean out your ears and pour in this SoundCloud-hosted selection…

As you’ll have heard, there’re some pretty slick licks going on, with dynamics from laid-back through to heavier strokes for up-tempo numbers. Garschke’s touch is deft throughout, which offers a solid base from which to improvise.

Purists will sniff as purists do, but then they’d be well iffy about someone using digital technology to build anything jazz. For those of us in the real world, without access to ancient recording tech and suitably soused wetware players, Basic Jazz MIDI is up to Toontrack’s usual game of quality goods at a fair price.
• €25 from Toontrack
• £19.95 from Time+Space

And if you yearn for a splash more realism when cooking jazz, waft some GAS at this...

Toontrack Jazz EZX | £44.95* / €69
*Sterling for download or boxed product from UK distrib Time+Space - includes UK VAT at 20% (£37.46 ex VAT)

Basic Jazz MIDI will sound just fine using the samples bundled with EZdrummer 2 or Superior Drummer. The files are standard MIDI and so their data can be assigned to any kit in any plugin you have assigned to them in your DAW.

That said, for best results, consider Jazz EZX, a superb collection of jazzy kit bits and yet more MIDI performances, this time by experimenter and inventor extraordinaire Roy “Futureman” Wooten.

Have a roll of Toontrack video, this time explaining how the sounds were recorded for Jazz EZX at Blackbird Studio in the Autumn of 2007. Then we’ve yet more SoundCloudiness demoing the bundled audio and MIDI, although if you’ve read this far, you’ll be itching to swing with your own constructions.

Whether creating a backing for standards, or letting rip with your own custom devisalments, these heavy-duty jazz tools represent great value and ample grist…

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