May 2004

Zildjian K. Custom Session Cymbals; Special Dry Crashes

Times change and musical tastes tend to run in cycles. Whereas 20 or 30 years ago drummers were demanding heavier, more penetrating styles of cymbals to cope with the ever-escalating volume of rock, funk and fusion, modern drummers seem to be gravitating toward a thinner, drier sound and feel due to today's more sophisticated sound reinforcement and recording techniques.

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Zildjian Custom Session Cymbals
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Zildjian Special Dry Crashes

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The modern hammering and lathing techniques applied to the new 16-inch and 18-inch K. Custom Session crashes are meant to retain aspects of the dark sound, buttery feel and harmonic complexity of the classic K. Zildjians, but these contemporary designs have a higher shape, and thus a higher fundamental pitch, so they offer drummers greater dynamic range and a more focused attack. Both Session crashes have a low voicing with a darkly inflected overtone series, plus plenty of warmth and body. The 18-inch is fuller and fatter, with a nice broad spread to the sound (yet more solid and sustaining in the mode of a crash-ride), while the 16-inch is tighter and more lightly focused, with more shimmer and sweetness. Both project a smooth, velvety aura when played with a light- to medium-weight stick, and each evinces a wet, fulsome crash with a controllable wash that cuts out quickly.

The appeal of the new Steve Gadd-influenced Session ride proved far more elusive. My aural impressions of what I took to be the old Turkish 18-inch K. that I thought I heard Gadd playing all these years was of a dark, dry, relatively chewy instrument. The 18-inch Session ride is rated as Medium-Thin in weight, but it doesn't have the flex or giving feel of its overhammered brethren in the K. Custom Line-it sounds and feels considerably heavier. And while its fundamental pitch is quite low and its ride characteristics are relatively focused, the Session Ride's brilliant finish confers a fairly bright character on the sound. As the bottom end doesn't build up much, I could make sticking patterns sit nicely on top of the music-but for my tastes the crash accents came out clangy and metallic, and I much preferred the midrange voicing and warmer articulations of the K. Custom Dry Light, Special Dry and Left Side rides. It's a well-made cymbal, with a coherent sound, and like the brilliant finished (raw bell) Sabian HHX Evolution Ride, I think it will find a very appreciative following among fusion players where its cutting bell sound and strong projection are a better fit for amplified music. I found it fatiguing for acoustic music.

But I fell in love with the new brilliant-finished 14-inch Session hi-hats. They employ a lower-pitched, lightly lathed medium-thin bottom cymbal and a higher-pitched medium-weight top cymbal that features deeper tonal grooves and a combination of broad and shallow hammer strokes. It also has 1/16-inch shaved off its outer circumference, which accentuates the solid, penetrating click sound you can get using foot strokes or when tightly closed and played with a stick. (Papa Jo Jones' old A. hats featured a medium-thin 13-inch top and a 12 3/4-inch paper-thin bottom.)

Better yet, open and closing effects with feet and hands produces a warm, malleable, dynamically varied set of shimmies, sighs, socks and shouts that should make the Session hats perfect for electric funk, acoustic jazz and all points in between-live or in the recording studio.

Finally, using a combination of deep, broad strokes and small, shallow hammering patterns, the new K. Custom Special Dry crashes are very lightly lathed on the bottom and scored on top (as if someone ran a very broad, dull cutting tool across the front and gave the surface a superficial scraping). As such, they extend on the family sound of the 14-inch Special Dry hats and the wonderful 21-inch Special Dry ride, a medium-thin cymbal with a touch more wash and creaminess than the raw, unlathed Dry Light. The sound opens up just enough to give you some extra dynamic play and spread for crash accents with the shoulder of the stick but sits right back down the second you apply the bead. In some ways, it's like playing a beautiful 40-year-old thin K. that's been beaten into submission until there are precious few overtones left. The new Special Dry crashes extend upon the family sound with a very short, sweet, percussive pop and just a touch of spread-yet they never build up any appreciable wash.

Cumulatively, when used as a set, they evince a very melodic, bell-like character. Better yet, you could elicit useful light ride patterns from all of them, although the 18-inch really excelled as an all-around light ride, while the 16-inch and 17-inch were perfect fast crashes. The 15-inch had a curiously smoky ambiguous tonal character, and the 14-inch was effective as a bright, penetrating short crash. The warm, focused nature of the Special Dry family of rides, crashes and hats should gain wide acceptance among jazz musicians looking for one set of cymbals that can effectively cover both acoustic and electric gigs-where tone, articulation, projection and dynamic control are more important than sheer volume or depth of wash.

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