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Meinl Byzance Jazz Cymbals

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Any line of cymbals with the word “jazz” in its name, like the 2007 Meinl Byzance Jazz series, brings with it certain expectations. These include tones that are deep, rich, warm, medium-pitched and dark-and at a volume that doesn’t bury other acoustic instruments in a traditional jazz setting. These are traits of the Zildjian K series, innovated by Kerope Zildjian in 19th-century Turkey and played by iconic jazz drummers like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey.

Even though Meinl’s new line launched nearly 200 years later, several of the German company’s hand-hammered, individually cast bronze alloy cymbals merit comparison. The Byzance cast line debuted in 2001, so the heated-and-rolled creations are still relative fledglings, even in comparison to Meinl’s previous sheet-stamped cymbals.

The 14-inch Jazz Thin Hi-Hats ($548 a pair, list) look to be a mismatch. The bottom is not only heavier but darker as well. Yet the warm-toned set proves crisp enough when closed by foot within a full-band setting, and versatile enough to cut through an acoustic mix whether played with drumsticks, brushes or an in-between hybrid like Pro-Mark’s Hot Rods. The hi-hats’ ample jazz definition and volume might extend to quieter rock settings, but, as is typical of most jazz-focused cymbals, would come up short in an overtly electric band situation.

Among the crashes, the 18-inch Jazz Thin Crash ($424) proves the most versatile of the bunch. With a moderately bright tone, long decay and enough stick definition to be used as a light ride cymbal, this cymbal-the star of Meinl’s Jazz line-also sounds great with brushes or hybrids. The only prospective drawback is its surprisingly powerful volume, which makes the cymbal suitable for fusion settings but less capable when played with an airy touch in delicate acoustic-jazz situations. In this regard, the Byzance Jazz crashes most resemble other companies’ machine-hammered cymbals, like the A Zildjian or Sabian AA models.

The 18-inch Jazz Extra-Thin Crash ($424) is brighter and louder, but a little too much of both. Less versatile than its thicker counterpart, it can sound tinny, especially when struck hard. Fine as a light ride, but only when played with sticks, it also provides an oceanic wash sound when played with mallets-yet extra-thin cymbals are never known for their durability.

Where Meinl offers the most variety in this series is in its ride cymbals-a case of the good, the bad and the ugly, depending on your tastes. Its 20-inch Jazz Sweet Ride ($490) lacks in projection near the center bell, yet otherwise offers bright definition when played with sticks, brushes or hybrids. Its slow decay also makes for a warm, gong-like crash sound. The 20-inch Jazz Sweet Light Ride ($490), on the other hand, has the best bell tone of the 20-inch cymbals, but comes up a bit short of its thicker, sweeter cousin elsewhere.

The 20-inch Jazz Thin Ride ($490) is the series’ most adaptable ride, and the hand hammering creates a deep, harmonic sound with sustain. It features bell projection, definition, dark overtones and a trashy crash sound no matter what you hit it with. It’s also the best of the 20-inch choices for wave-like washes with mallets. The 20-inch Jazz Extra-Thin Ride ($490) is, if anything, too thin. Without a bell tone and lifeless when played with brushes, the cymbal’s best attribute is its crash sound, which is best achieved using hybrids.

Meinl’s 20-inch Jazz Club Ride ($490) is a flat ride with four rivets. Thick and heavy, the cymbal’s rivets offer lots of decay when the cymbal is struck halfway out from the center hole to the other edge. A true jazz cymbal, this cymbal is suitable for sticks or brushes, but not hybrids. The 22-inch Jazz China Ride ($599), also with four rivets, is a novel idea but one that doesn’t hold water. It does make a decent secondary ride option for off-beat accents, and its clangy tone works best at lower volumes with brushes.

The 22-inch Jazz Thin Ride ($599), with a warm tone and trashy crash capabilities, comes closest to heavier 22-inch options like Meinl’s Spectrum Ride. It’s not particularly dexterous, and lacks bell definition, but it’s the best of the 22-inch jazz rides by default.

The Eli Wallach model in the series is the 22-inch Jazz Extra-Thin Ride ($599). No matter what you strike it with, you get no definition, only washy overtones that take forever to decay. Only crashing it with a hybrid or mallet results in a pleasing, gong-like tone. Then again, hand hammering results in a one-of-a-kind sound, so this could’ve been an unfortunate anomaly. As Meinl’s Web site states, “Every Byzance cymbal is a piece of art and has its own unique sound characteristics, which can never be duplicated.”

Originally Published