Straight Ahead! Jazz Drums

Straight Ahead! Jazz Drums

test system: 2009 Apple MacPro 2.66GHz quad, 12GB RAM, Cubase 6.5.1, Kontakt 5.0.2

This product was given to me by the developer for review.

Jazz drums have always been somewhat slept on in the VI realm. While there are plenty of excellent rock/pop drum libraries to choose from, I am not aware of any dedicated jazz drum libraries, and other than the obligatory “brushes kit” the major VI developers seem to have little interest in this field.

Understandably so, as jazz is a much smaller market to begin with, and the improvisational and interactive nature of the style does not encourage use of preprogrammed drums. Indeed, while I think SAJD is a great library for those who need it, I can’t really think of a scenario that requires it. That said, if you DO need a believable-sounding jazz kit and authentic loops, this is the one to get!

For me, the best thing about SAJD are the loops. I hardly ever use loops as I’m more a play-and-program-it-yourself kind of guy, but these are in a different league. The ride cymbal patterns are better than anything you can play/program on a keyboard, and since there are four different tempo regions to choose from they aren’t time-stretched beyond credibility.

While the idiosyncratic keymapping of individual hits and velocity-switching of loops require some getting used to, it did not take me very long to produce convincing drumtracks, even if the instruction manual was rather uninformative. Straight Ahead says they have updated the manual since, by the way, but I haven’t looked at it.

On to the heart of the matter, playing along with these loops is just plain fun! It’s like playing with a great drummer, and for me it is certainly preferable over the tired Aebershold stuff. Load up the appropiate tempo range, trigger the loops, add some Trillian upright bass and pretty soon I’m jamming.

On the flip side, while I do understand the design choices they had to make, I do not care for the non-standard keymapping. I like to play much of the fills and accents myself, but that is kind of hard because the individual hits are so spread out. Playing a snare/tom/cymbal fill requires you to stretch your fingers over two octaves, and that can be awkward with more complicated stuff.

I’m not exactly a fan of GeneralMIDI, but having at least one GM-compatible kit would greatly simplify adding SAJD to existing projects. Here’s hoping that will be included in a future update.

Another gripe is the differences in volume between some of the invidual hits and loops, which occasionally makes self-played fills disproportionally loud compared to the ride cymbal loops. Carefully adjusting velocities helps somewhat, but reduce them too much and you trigger a different sound. Not saying this can’t be fixed in the mix, but I’d rather be able to sort that out in MIDI. And oh, this may be a matter of taste, but I would have preferred a slightly heavier bassdrum, as it currently sounds much like a floortom.

My last complaint is the lack of brushes. StraightAheadSamples explains that the importance of brushes in jazz requires a dedicated library (one they are working on right now) but their absence in SAJD does limit its usefulness as an all-purpose jazz drums solution.

The sound quality is good, although I initially felt it was too dry. But as it is, the dry sound lends itself extremely well for processing, with a little bit of compression (2 or 3dB) greatly increasing presence and brightness, and your choice of reverb will blend seamlessly with the original sound.

The aforementioned complaints notwithstanding, SAJD is a great little library, and I definitely recommend it. It is a lot of fun to jam with, it inspires and with a bit of programming you can get results nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. It is a solid first product from StraightAhead, and I am looking forward to see what they will do with the brushes.

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