For decades young jazz musicians have had the Jamey Aebersold VHS and eventually CD recordings to practice the fundamentals of jazz and to learn tunes. Thousands of musicians have grown into great artists with the help of these recordings and associated books. Ten’s of thousands of music teachers have prescribed practice sessions with an Aebersold recording adding context to their lessons. This sufficed well for me until I advanced enough to feel that I needed a different type of tool.
A tool which allowed me to focus with laser like accuracy on a specific chords or tonalities. I felt the need to do this in the context of a jazz combo. Of course it would be quite easy to ask the pianist to play G sus 13 chord as I play through the arpeggios outlining the chord movement between Dm7 and G7. But how long could I expect the piano, bass, and drums to keep playing 1 chord as I improved my musicianship? Enter the app SessionBand: Jazz. With this app I can program in a single chord and the recorded pros will play a musically interesting accompaniment on just that chord indefinitely and the sound is fantastic.
What exactly is SessionBand? It is a loops based sequencer app. If you are familiar with the iRealB app then you know how easy it is to insert chord symbols into the chart and hear it played back in all its MIDI synthesized glory. What SessionBand, which I will now abbreviate as SB, does different is that it plays those chord symbols with high quality samples. All of the rhythm and solo tracks are played by actual musicians and sampled at very high audio quality. The samples blend seamlessly from one chord to the next creating a near live musical experience. So live that you conceivably perform live shows using the app.
Another option guaranteed to expand the apps usefulness is the styles options. Changing styles alters the rhythm section phrasing, voicing, and as expected rhythms. This can add tremendous variety to your practice regime. Want to practice All of Me as a Bolero or maybe In a sentimental mood in a Hot Jazz style you can and you don’t have to explain the essence of the styles to a player who’s never played it before. Changing styles also includes change the meter, including: odd times like from 5/4, 7/8 or a 6/4 and others depending on what SB music pack you are using.
If you’ve used modern music recording software in the past few years the interface will feel familiar. It is a blend of the Apple aesthetic and Fruity Loops in my opinion. The controls are a real treat as it is easy to move between options and for the most part finding the option you want is simple. That’s not to say there aren’t room for improvements. The piano keyboard used to chose what chord you want in the sequence is beautifully animated but feels a little clunky. Simpler user selection options have been used by other apps and should be considered now.
Interestingly, SB apps are divided into volumes, for example the SB Jazz 1, SB Jazz 2, SB Jazz 3. Each of these volumes has its own loops, styles, and demo songs. This subdivision is pretty unnecessary and serves to make living with multiple apps within the same grouping more cumbersome. I would have gladly payed $30 for a single app that included the contents of the 3 SB Jazz apps. This would mean fewer icons on my already well populated pages.
The app comes pre-installed with several demo songs. They are fantastic examples of what the app can do but they leave you wanting more. It is plain to see that the software wasn’t crafted to be a replacement for iRealB but they have an opportunity to really open this software to the community. The iRealB community took the steps to convert thousands of jazz standards to the iRealB format for playback in the app. The files are little more than text files. This app should have the capacity to import that file and make thousands of jazz standards available to the user. Perhaps if we ask nicely enough we can get the option added in future updates.
Following along with the importing of standards is the exporting of completed arrangement. The inability to export multi-track wave files for mixing is sad. I prefer to record myself playing along to the track with my vintage RCA ribbon microphone into a Propellerhead Balance interface and mix in Reason. This setup isn’t really doable as you have to record the mixing in the SessionBand app and then export a file through a 3rd party app that has all the tweaks you want then you can drop that into a new track in your audio software and add your performance tracks over top of that mix. The problems is what if you feel like you have too much bass in a section? They you rerecord that background and re-import it. Multitrack wave or export each track individually would make on the fly mixing in other tools much easier.
Before you haul off and download the app be certain you’ve got the space for it. With thousands of audio loops this app is a hog. But rightly so because if you want a slimmed down bare bones midi based software then get ChordBot. It works well but doesn’t have the rich analog sound that properly recorded instruments have in this software.
TAKE AWAY: I like the software and intend to continue to use it in the rehearsal room but there are some limitations that make it hard to use live. I recommend this product for everyone who plays an instrument.