In several gear evaluations over the past three years I’ve praised the purity and tonality of the hand-hammered cymbals from the Paiste Traditional line, which initially exploded on the scene like a blast from the past back in 1996. However, the Avedis Zildjian Co. has answered Paiste in kind with an impressive series of classic-style instruments and futuristic retro designs in its A. Vintage, K. Constantinople and K. Custom lines. None of these, however, could prepare me for the radical experience of playing six new Constantinoples-three 20-inch and three 22-inch models in Thin High, Medium Thin High and Medium Thin Low weights-which evoke a sense of something ancient and completely distinct from any other Zildjian cymbals. There is nothing generic or ordinary about any of these cymbals, including some I sampled at local retailers-each is an event unto itself.
When I queried Zildjian cymbal maven John King as to the distinguishing characteristics of the cymbals’ weights, he said, “The overall profile or bow of any cymbal determines what the color of overtones will be-i.e., high-profile mid to upper midrange emphasis of overtones versus a low profile’s more low-end body of overtones. A heavier weight will offer more stick articulation and a higher pitch of overtones. Conversely, lighter cymbals will offer more spread of overtones and possess a lower overall pitch-all other things being equal, of course.”
These are the thinnest, lowest pitched cymbals I have ever played-so low that they should operate in a tonal range comfortably below the tuning of most jazz drummers’ tom-tom arrays. On the Medium Thin Constantinoples, I found that the distinction between the wash and the attack dynamic was much more pronounced-almost as if they came from two separate cymbals-while that distinction on both of the Thins was not nearly as pronounced. Still, the Thins never got in their own way, and by modulating my attack on the big 22-incher I was able to rein it in for a softly articulated ride focus or work it up to a fine sepia lather for a fat, sustained roar, à la the nonriveted K. Zildjians Art Blakey used to mount on his left-hand side as an elemental crash-ride.
For this review I employed a stick derived from an old 4D (the original Ray Bauduc model, with a long, hot-dog-bun-shaped bead and a thin throat); it’s medium to medium-light in weight-closer to a 5A than a 7A. These cymbals have a very relaxed, giving feel; yet as thin as they are I wasn’t anticipating how effective they’d be with an electric guitar at a reasonably healthy volume level. And given the complex wash of overtones and the depth of the pitch, the cymbals’ tonality was ambiguous enough to make for a good blend without getting in the way of the guitar or overtly influencing the harmonic direction-unless I chose to emphasize that tonal quality. I freaked over the dark, sticky focus and balmy undertones of the 22-inch Medium Thin Low, the warm, sweet flotation and full-bodied bloom of the 20-inch Medium Thin High and the chewy feel, bouncy response and billowing crash of the 20-inch Thin High.
These three Constantinoples blended beautifully into my capacious array of Paistes, Zildjians, Sabians and Wuhans. And while I just love the spectral sparkle, sultry midrange richness and top-to-bottom evenness of the Paiste Traditionals, the Constantinoples offered a contrasting style of character: dark and funky, with a giving, buttery feel, and a peppery, complex wash of overtones that added a misty hint of morning dew-without overwhelming the dryly-articulated stick sound, unless I really dug in. And while the fat attack-dynamic of the Traditionals seems suffused in the russet glow of the midrange, the lighter stick articulations of these new Ks seemed to hover just above the wash.
These are not metallic-sounding cymbals that go ping in the night-more like a willowy Brazilian woman intoning the vowel sound pah in your ear. More significant, they’re so thin and flexible that they exhibit a discernible wobble along the edge-what “Papa” Jo Jones characterized as the dancing devils-which contributes greatly to the buoyancy of their sound. That wobble serves to dissipate vibrations. Instead of the cymbal’s resonances building up into an enormous swell of sound, as vibrations radiate outward from the cymbal’s bell toward the edge and back again, the cymbal essentially gates itself, without choking. So when you really lay into these mothers with the side of your stick, you get this wet, wide spread of overtones that cuts out in an instant.
These K. Constantinoples should find acceptance in a variety of jazz and blues settings. Their beauty is in the ear of the beholder, however, and such specialized cymbals won’t suit every drummer-they are indeed your father’s Oldsmobile. Given their lightweight and soft-attack characteristics, I’m not sure they’re ideally suited to be the main cymbal in every jazz drummer’s kit. But as with the Paiste Traditionals, their musical character, complexity and individuality is such that every drummer will want to cop at least one to portray the vintage sound and venerable musical attitude that these instruments posses in spades.