BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE WINTER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
The story of Crescent Cymbals is as complex as the products in its catalog. Originally an American firm importing specially designed Turkish bronze, the burgeoning brand eventually forged a partnership with Canadian hammer-heavers Sabian. It wasn’t long before that partnership evolved into Sabian welcoming Crescent into the family fold entirely, taking over distribution too. The result is a revamped product lineup that reflects the original Crescent cymbals while incorporating a few of Sabian’s modern touches and signature design elements.
The strongest pairing of the two companies’ aesthetics is the Element line. We received the full lineup of 14″ and 15″ hi-hats, 16″ and 18″ crashes, 20″ and 22″ rides, a 22″ riveted Chinese cymbal, and 20″ and 22″ Distressed ride.
Like all cymbals produced under the Crescent banner, the Element line is forged from B20 bronze, then lathed and hammered into shape at Sabian’s Canadian facility. Every cymbal we tested in this core group features finely lathed tops and bottoms, a second pass of wide-band lathing, an even array of medium-sized hammering, and unlathed, hammered bells. These medium-weight cymbals are beautiful, blending a classically hammered appearance with that raw, organic bell in the middle. The melding of old and new seems to represent the marriage between these two companies, drawing on Crescent’s old-world Turkish roots and Sabian’s more modern approach to cymbal manufacturing.
Sonically, the core Elements fit right into that traditional/modern ethos, as well. To my ear, they sounded a bit like the American cymbals produced during the 1950s and ’60s, but with a slightly drier middle and a peppering of trashy undertones. Overall, they had the dark, smoky center heard in coveted vintage jazz cymbals, along with a subtly sparkling top that recalls Sabian’s touch.
Both the 20″ and 22″ ride cymbals responded with semi-controlled notes that landed somewhere between ticks and pings. They had plenty of classic
jazz character — somewhat reminiscent of the cymbals Mel Lewis used in the ’70s — but that added brightness on top helped them cut through in louder situations. The taller, unlathed bells contain the sound a bit with some built-in dryness. They were also clear and separated enough to serve as excellent Latin-music centerpieces, and were able to handle louder rock situations.
The 16″ and 18″ crashes have a sizzling upper register that sat on top of the dark, classically Turkish-inspired character, and they finish with a surprisingly short decay. Tall bells and low profiles offer a punchy accent with a tight spread, and my microphones loved these crashes.
Although the rides felt capable of handling just about anything shy of death metal, the crashes played quieter. They’re probably best suited to low- and medium-volume play — they might lose their ability to punctuate anything louder.
The Element hi-hats were my favorites in the group. Both models are somewhat dry, which is likely due at least in part to the unlathed bells. Those bells — as well as the hats’ slim profiles and the line’s hammering and lathing — yield a tight, ticking, closed sound with a little sizzle underneath. Releasing tension introduced some low, trashy wash, and really leaning into the edge delivered a broad humming spread. The 14″ hats had a gritty bark when closed that I didn’t hear as prominently in the 15″ model. The larger hats had a slightly brighter character I really enjoyed, as well as an extra sparkle that blended comfortably with the rest of the line. These versatile hats could easily work in a wide variety of situations.
The 22″ Chinese cymbal has an assertive voice that’s tamed by 20 steel rivets. It further separates itself from the rest of the line with an unlathed section that extends well beyond the bell at a full 12.5″ in diameter. That extra dry section helped offer a more controlled playing surface, making the cymbal comfortably swingable even under my heavy hands. The two-inch outer flange really rockets up the roar factor, but the weight of those rivets helps rein in the sound when things get loud. This is a big, big cymbal best used by players with a more delicate stroke, but it can be a fun white noise compliment in other situations, too.
In addition to sending us the core Element group, Crescent also included
its Element Distressed rides, which feature unlathed and heavily hammered tops with finely lathed bottoms. This volcanic rock look is lovely, and it pairs nicely with the rest of the series.
I was surprised to find a fairly significant difference in feel and sound between the 20″ and 22″ models. The 20″, brighter both in appearance
and response, had a separated but serviceable crash sitting below its dusty stick attack. It was incredibly clear and articulate, even at high volumes when that crash-y character built up into a roiling bed.
By contrast, the 22″ was bone dry. It may not be the driest cymbal I’ve ever heard, but in the context of this group it’s a total desert, ticking and quick with almost no integrated wash below. A pleasant and musical low hum rumbled underneath the stick sound but never came close to overshadowing the attack of each note. Because it was so well-contained, I found the combination of the 22″ Distressed ride along with the 20″ Element ride, 18″ Element crash, and 15″ Element hi-hats to be an exceedingly versatile collection of cymbals for everything from light bop to mid-volume rock.
When I first saw that Crescent’s marketing literature referred to the Element line as representing the “pinnacle of modern cymbal making,” I bristled at what I thought was bloated hyperbole. After spending some time with these cymbals, though, I understand. The Elements are the result of a thoroughly considered blending of two very disparate approaches to making cymbals. They carry the tones and timbres of centuries of Turkish tradition into a modern music world by incorporating some of Sabian’s signature design features, or elements. Masterful stuff, Crescent, both sonically and conceptually.