Audio + WAV / Akai / Unity. **** 4/5 Stars.
Steve Smith used to play drums with Journey, a melodic rock band who ruled America's airwaves 25 years ago — hence the clunky title. The 491MB Akai CD-ROM contains 452 drum loops, the majority of which are two bars long. The performance samples have been internally looped, so if you hold down a key, they repeat indefinitely — handy for instant jamming.
If you want a succinct overview, this is an experienced, technically accomplished drummer playing some good, controlled multi-purpose rock and pop grooves with a strong, but not unduly aggressive delivery. Much of the material centres around the midtempo 90 to 100bpm range, but there are also brisk rock beats, some smartly played 178bpm quasi-jungle and a hurtling, double-time shuffle which I clocked at over 240bpm. The beats feature a fair amount of swing and shuffle time, in addition to straight time, played mainly in 4/4.
Although the feel is generally comfortable, it's worth noting that not all the loops within a stated tempo range are exactly tempo-matched — I found samples of 130, 131, 132 and 133bpm within a program labelled 131bpm. This is a pain for programmers, but as every loop displays its tempo in its sample name, at least you know where you stand.
The CD-ROM opens with a fast 158bpm rock groove, featuring exciting 'ride toms' straight out of a 1950s rock & roll rumble movie. More soulful beats follow: the attractive cross-stick 'tock' of 'Send Her My Love' caught my ear, with a ride cymbal variation that provides a real dynamic lift. 'What's Going On', a 94bpm swung groove, offers over 100 variations, which come across as a spontaneous flow of ideas, rather than a set of preconceived patterns. Slower beats appear as you delve deeper, with stately rock grooves leading to a 71bpm 12/8 blues. The tempo finally bottoms out at 68bpm with a tasteful, laid-back brush ballad. At this point, Steve Smith unexpectedly launches into a deranged 210bpm punkabilly thrash, before completing his rhythmic journey by falling off his drum stool, sending kit and microphones flying. Luckily, the tape ran out seconds before this happened.
It's a pleasure to review a sample CD recorded to a high professional standard. The kit sounds present, lively and powerful, with a choice of three different snare drums. I found that the mix tends to change somewhat unpredictably from fairly ambient to dry, and the performances listed as recorded 'in front of a marble room' sound the driest of all! The generous helping of 175 drum, cymbal and cowbell hits, rolls and tom breaks is a huge bonus. And there are also a large number of excellent fills and intros, plus some protracted, histrionic endings where the drummer builds up a free-form crescendo of noise before bringing matters to a close with a triumphant 'bada bing'.
Fans of old-style musicianship will appreciate the expertise involved in this title. The beats lend themselves well to a wide variety of song backings, guitar-driven rock, or even the odd jazz-tinged instrumental. Throughout the trip, Mr Smith acts as your responsible tour guide, avoiding over-complication and protecting the groove.
Two-CD audio + WAV set £59.95; Akai/Unity CD-ROM £129. Prices include VAT.
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