Writing and arranging for horns is a tricky business if you don’t have the necessary skills, but Session Horns PRO makes it so much easier. Keith Gemmell takes a deep breath
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Minimum System Requirements Free Kontakt 5 Player or Kontakt 6GB RAM
On reviewing the initial release of Session Horns we reckoned it did a splendid job of delivering punchy-sounding four-piece horn section licks and riffs for rock, jazz and funk productions, although it didn’t include solo instruments and articulation keyswitching.
An expanded version, Session Horns PRO, is now available, this time with a 30GB sound library plus the inclusion of articulations and solo instruments. For background information not included in this review, we recommend that you read the Session Horns review in MT119.
Three file types are available. Performance, Key Switch and Solo. The Performance folder features phrases and sound sets for a variety of different genres. For example, the Full Horns patch contains two trumpets, two tenor saxophones, a baritone sax and a tenor trombone – a fairly large setup with a powerful modern sound.
Vintage Horns, on the other hand, features a Stax/Motown-style section of two trumpets plus tenor sax and baritone saxophones. Unlike the more basic Session Horns, customised sections can also be built from the ten available instruments, which includes a tuba.
If you’re a good keyboard player the horn sections can be played polyphonically, which triggers all the selected instruments. However, this can sound muddy if too many notes are played at once. A better bet might be to use the so-called Smart Voice Setup, which distributes the voices realistically among the notes played.
Within a four-note chord the lowest determines the lower range instruments, trombone for example, the next highest controls the instruments with the next highest pitch range, and so on. Add a fifth note and one of the existing notes will be replaced according to the pitch range of the new note. It works brilliantly and should prove a significant time saver, particularly if your brass arranging skills are limited.
True polyphonic legato is available, too, for even more realism. Monophonic legato is also an option, of course, along with a choice of two velocity-controlled keyswitches – enough for general playing and subsequent editing if necessary.
Riffs and Licks
An upgraded Animator phrase library remains, and, with 200 or so ready-to-play riffs, should prove useful to many. It’s a good feature but obtaining satisfactory results by fitting prerecorded horn phrases around an existing song melody isn’t always easy.
The phrases are editable; for example, you can alter the start points and lengths, but we found playing them on a keyboard and switching notes a bit clumsy. However, we switched to a DAW and drew the changes needed in the piano roll, and used this way they have considerable creative potential.
Similar to the Performance folder, the Key Switch files provide 16 key switchable articulations for both performance or composition, nine of which can be selected at a time. Perhaps the biggest advantage over the original version, though, is the addition of the Solo folder, which provides access to all the individual instruments and their keyswitches for detailed editing.
Although not as intricate as a dedicated solo instrument sample library and not really suitable for big band work, they have just the right sound and character for producing pop, jazz and funky horn lines.
Where Session Horns provides many of the features required for fast but small-size horn section writing, especially for musicians with limited arranging experience, Session Horns PRO expands the principle further. An update from Session Horns is available and worth buying for the additional features such as multiple keyswitching, extra instruments and sound sets and, of course, the solo instruments, which make a huge difference when detailed editing is needed.
If you haven’t bought the first version and you produce the kind of music where funky horns, both vintage and modern, are an important ingredient, Session Horns PRO ought to be on your shopping list.