Session Horns is the latest in a batch of very user-friendly wind and string libraries from Native Instruments. Aimed specifically at soul and pop producers, it’s ideal for putting together licks and riffs for genres such as R&B, Latin, nu-jazz and reggae. Four instruments – one trombone, one tenor saxophone and two trumpets – provide a classic small-section line-up of the type featured on countless recordings over the last 50 years or so. These can be used in various combinations, although not as solo instruments. Knowledge of brass arranging isn’t essential because a Smart Voice Split feature allocates chords to the correct instruments. NI’s free Kontakt Player is required.
Manufacturer: Native Instruments
Price: 99 Euros
Contact: 2twenty2 0845 299 4222
Minimum System Requirements: Free Kontakt 5 Player or Kontakt 5
There are two instruments in Session Horns: one for real-time performance using pre-recorded phrases, and another for sequencing and production work. The latter, called single articulation, is ideal for general section writing and arranging.
First you set up an instrument combination. The default setup (from top down) is Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2, Tenor Sax, Trombone. You can’t add further instruments but you can subtract them and work with groups of three or two. For example: Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2 and Tenor Sax, or perhaps just Tenor Sax and Trombone – a surprisingly effective combination.
The next job is to sort out an articulation. All the necessary ones are present and correct but to our surprise, keyswitching between them isn’t available. Admittedly, its absence isn’t the end of the world but it does mean extra time spent setting up templates.
The Voicing Assistant lets you determine how individual instruments are distributed among the keys when you play a note or chord. There are several options here and experimenting with them will make a notable difference to the sound of a section. You can also use the Voicing Assistant to drop any instrument down an octave or two – a quick way to open up dense chords on ballads and slow tunes.
One of the trickier aspects of using conventional horn section libraries is getting a powerful sound from just four solo instruments, not to mention getting them to sit well together in the mix. The developers of Session Horns have simplified the process with the inclusion of a master effects chain consisting of compressor, EQ, tape saturator, delay, distortion and filter. A large number of useful presets are available but you can’t edit them. The same applies to an equally impressive selection of mix presets for controlling the volume balance and EQ settings of the individual instruments in a section. However, you can manually control aspects such as humanisation (detuning), stereo width and reverb.
Many of the famous horn sections would arrive at the studio and work out arrangements by ear. If you want a similar – albeit virtual – experience, then Session Horns includes a second ‘performance’ instrument complete with its own phrase library organised by genre, song and phrase.
With six phrases to each song, each with its own harmonic progression, much can be achieved. However, fitting pre-recorded melodic material into existing tracks is never quite as easy a task as some may have you believe. If a loop doesn’t quite fit a track, be prepared to make compromises: you can’t edit the notes. You can, though, turn off the harmonic progression and just use their rhythm as one-note phrases. How much better it would be if the phrases could be simply dragged to tracks as MIDI files for tweaking (Session Horns Pro, maybe?).
Session Horns provides a quick and unique way for both inexperienced and pro arrangers alike to overdub modern, powerful-sounding horn lines and short phrases onto their productions. It doesn’t cover all aspects of horn writing, but if you want modern funky riffs and licks for pop, reggae and soul productions, Session Horns deserves serious consideration.
+ Tight, modern sound
+ Instrument combinations
+ Voice allocation
+ EQ and mix presets
– No solo instruments
– No articulation keyswitching
Great little VI that does exactly what it promises. Tight, great-sounding horn licks and riffs.