If you want great drum sounds but don't need to tweak every bolt in the kit, Toontrack's EZ Drummer provides a very natural‑sounding approach to sampled drums, complete with a mixer page for balancing the kit elements and for bringing up the overhead and room mics. You can switch some of the drums in a kit for alternatives, or sometimes pick a different type of kick-drum beater. The range of options is deliberately narrow, though, which forces you to treat it like a well‑recorded acoustic kit rather than endlessly tinkering with the sound. Additional kits come in the form of EZX expanders on DVD or as downloads. The latest of these, Jazz EZX, features Grammy award‑winning composer and drummer Roy 'Futureman' Wooten. Roy has been working with sampled drums since the mid '80s, and has played with numerous jazz legends, including US band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He's also often seen playing the SynthAxe‑Drumitar, which he designed to trigger drum samples.
Jazz EZX was recorded at Nashville's Blackbird Studios and produced by Andreas Sundgren and Brad Bowden. The all‑important kit includes both stick and brush hits and is made up of either a Pearl 14‑inch or Leedy piccolo snare with a Pearl 18‑inch Reference series kick drum or a 22‑inch Ludwig Maple Psychedelic. The toms are by Pearl or Slingerland and there's an additional Gretsch 10‑inch USA custom tom to the left. The cymbals are Zildjian or Paiste with 14‑inch Masterworks hi‑hats, and the mixer page gives separate control over the overhead and 'chamber' levels, as well as the close mics. Chamber adds a nice brash, short reverb, with a very strong sense of a real space. The snare has both top and bottom microphones, and — unusually — there's also a separate sub fader for the kick that offers you some real low‑frequency clout.
Despite this being a jazz kit, most of the included 'drag and drop' MIDI rhythms are musically usable in straight or swing time, these being played by David Haynes, Morgan Agren and Per Mikaelsson. As you'd expect for a jazz kit, the sound is very natural: the drums feel as though they've been given plenty of space to breathe, but the kit is versatile enough to be used for other genres, such as rockabilly or country. When a brushed snare is selected, you get two different hits and a 'drag', and all the snare and tom sounds are very articulate and well‑defined. Inevitably you can't get a virtuoso brush performance out of so few hits, but the general effect is very convincing. There's a wonderful sense of dynamics as you play louder, courtesy of generous multisampling and, as with the other EZ Drummer expander kits, the overall recording quality and fidelity is extremely high. This is definitely one to add to your collection — even if jazz isn't your thing. Paul White