BY JOHN NYMAN
(Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s September 2009 Issue)
TWO HOT PINGS AND ONE COOL THING
Jazz icon Art Blakey used to ask for three medium ride cymbals whenever he rented a kit. He knew he’d get three cymbals that varied in tone, even though they were all labeled the same, and he wanted variety in his cymbal voices. Back then, pure chance was good enough for Blakey, but he’d be amazed at the cymbal choices available today. Cymbalsmiths are heeding drummers’ pleas and making pies for every taste.
For the past several months I’ve gigged with three new 21″ Sabian ride cymbals: two Raw Bell Dry Rides — one in AAX and one in HHX, and the AAX Memphis Ride. They are specific and enjoyable, each for specific needs.
IT’S A DRY HEAT
Wash means nothing to some drummers. The roar of thin vintage brass leaves them cold. They want the clear, pointed ping of each stroke of the stick. If that describes you, direct your ears to Sabian’s Raw Bell Dry Rides. I call them “Ping Machines.”
The 21″ Raw Bell Dry Rides are available in both AAX and HHX versions. The HHX Raw Bell Dry Ride is the dirty one, with more of a gritty, low character. This is a heavy cymbal. Thick. We’ve always known a thick cymbal focuses the sound, but that used to mean manhole covers! The Raw Bell Dry Ride is no manhole cover. Sabian has focused all the weight and mass into the ping and maintained a sonorous musicality underneath. Like Bruce Lee’s infamous “one-inch punch,” each stroke speaks clearly and vibrates the cymbal, but the focal point remains small. The focus is the ping — a dry, hot, dirty, hammerhead attack.
The AAX Raw Bell Dry Ride is also focused. The AAX and HHX are equals in weight and horsepower, but of different character. The AAX is brighter, cleaner, and higher in pitch than the HHX. If I had to write a poem about the two (and thank goodness I don’t) I’d say the HHX is the muscular sound of the blacksmith’s hammer at the forge, while the AAX is the glassy, titanium sound of sonar ringing inside a nuclear submarine. In plain English, the AAX Raw Bell Dry Ride is high-pitched, very bright, and very clean. It has a classic, finely lathed surface that gleams. Its raw bell is rough to the touch, but not marked by hammer strikes. The HHX Raw Bell Dry Ride is low-pitched, slightly gritty, and dirty. Large hammer strikes litter its finely lathed surface and also dimple the dark mass of its raw bell. Both the AAX and HHX have stunning clarity of attack, with rounded but muscular ping sounds.
Small sticks sounded astoundingly accurate, but large sticks, between 2B and 2S, also kept up both articulate ping and impressive power, making the Raw Bell Dry Rides great instruments for heavy rocking. Vinny Appice, I think, would like these cymbals, as he is fond of power tools. These cymbals will not be overrun by stick size, and that includes the cymbal bells. And those raw bells sound as cool as they look. The AAX bell has the bright majesty of a ship’s bell but does not sound cartoon-ish. It was loud played with the stick’s tip, and really loud played with stick’s shoulder. It had great cutting ability, achieved without any annoying overtones. The bell of the AAX has an integrated tone, meaning the bell sounds like an amplified version of the cymbal’s ping. The HHX bell is grittier and darker but equally strong. With both the AAX and the HHX, a move from cymbal face to bell produces a sound that remains within the original personality. Both bells have enough power for any rock situation.
With both of these 21″ Raw Bell Dry Rides, the power is focused in the ping. There’s scant wash, no hopes of crashing, and plenty of extra weight to lug around in the cymbal bag. But man oh man, that sweetly focused attack. If ping is your thing, check these out.
ALL THE WAY TO MEMPHIS
The Memphis Ride became a frequent flyer in my cymbal bag, a star player simply because it is so unassuming. The Memphis Ride has a weird look, its mottled dark and light earthy face being cut round and round by shiny, widely spaced lathing. But it doesn’t have a weird sound. This cat is subdued, cool, smoky. It’s not aggressive, not overly bright, not shockingly dry. It’s perhaps the most subdued yet capable cymbal of the year, and I love it for that.
The Memphis Ride has a woody attack, with a wide and low wash and just a hint of velvetiness. I would call it polite, but that’s not exactly right. It’s cool, like Al Jackson was cool. It speaks confidently but without pretension. Aggressive music could bowl it over, but the smoky sound of the Memphis is not made for aggressive music, though it did well for me on both jazz and rock gigs.
The Memphis Ride expertly worked the middle ground between rock and jazz, funk and soul, and covered my musical needs every time. Sometimes I wished for a little more ping or a little more spread, but I never complained about what was there. It was never too much of the wrong thing. Like black jeans and an expensive shirt, this cymbal was smoothly “cool” in a variety of settings.
Played with a wood-tipped stick, the Memphis gives a woody, slightly muted but fat ping. There’s distinction between the woody attack and the velvety wash, but they are clearly married. Nylon-tipped sticks produced a more brittle, brighter ping, increased the separation between attack and wash, and made the cymbal aggressive enough for a loud dance band. Overall, the cymbal is velvety and subdued, clear but muted. Almost like Sabian stuck a piece of masking tape on the bottom, so you won’t need to.
The Memphis Ride played dance-rock at banquets, swung a big band, blended with percussion on a Latin-rock gig, bebopped on a jazz concert, and was genteel enough for restaurant jazz. I played it with maple 7As, hickory 5As, and nylon-tipped 5Bs. It’s one of the most versatile cymbals I’ve ever carried, and would top my list for my “desert island” cymbal. Metal kids, sorry, the Memphis Ride isn’t going to do you much good. But gigging drummers covering many styles should check it out.
Sabian HHX Raw Bell
Dry Ride 21″ $644
Sabian AAX Raw Bell
Dry Ride 21″ $483
Sabian AAX Memphis Ride 21” $483
FEATURES Raw Bell Dry Rides are the ping machines. AAX is cleaner; HHX has more grit and lower pitch; Memphis Ride is versatile, woody, and subdued.
CONTACT Sabian Ltd. sabian.com 506-272-2040
With the 21″ Raw Bell Dry Rides, Sabian has reaffirmed its commitment to specific tastes. The 21″ Memphis Ride shows the company hasn’t forgotten the needs of the generalist.