Big Fish Audio | Electronic Musician Magazine Marty Cutler | Brush Artistry Product Review
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Brush Artistry | Electronic Musician Magazine

Reviewer: Marty Cutler Back to Brush Artistry product details

Brush-kit samples have been included in sound sets for quite some time, but they are considerably more difficult to program than standard drum kits. The variety of articulations you can achieve with brushes on a snare can be bewildering, especially for non-drummers.

To address this problem, Big Fish Audio has released "Brush Artistry" ($99.95), a 2-disc set of audio tracks and 16-bit, 44.1 kHz Acidized WAV files. The collection features the work of Pat Campbell, who has worked with Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Oranj Symphonette, and the Tin Hat Trio.

"Brush Artistry's" eclectic mix targets swing, bossa nova, country, and backbeat-oriented pop. Campbell provides a useful variety of individual hits: an assortment of brushed-snare articulations such as taps, drops, and swishes; snare hits sampled at three dynamic levels; sticked and brushed toms and cymbals; and kicks. However, the collection's main focus is on grooves, and most of the groove activity is on the snare drum. Campbell replicates his performances at a variety of tempos, but you can also use the Acidized WAV files to fine-tune tempos with a minimum of time-based artifacts.

You'll Swing For This
"Brush Artistry" is weighted in favor of swing styles, and Campbell swings hard. Each folder at a given tempo contains a single Groove file, with two-beat and four-beat variations that often have the same snare pattern. Consequently, there is little in the way of variation.

In the swing folders, the orchestration is restricted to kick, snare, and an occasional hi-hat; I would have appreciated more varied cymbal work within the grooves themselves, but thankfully the Fill sections--which usually include an intro, a mid-song fill, and an ending--provide additional cymbal and snare color. The swing files are rather conservative and seem more suited for pop, folk, and rockabilly applications than jazz. For example, the collection could really use some contemporary bebop stylings, where the kick plays something other than downbeats and the snare provides off-beat hits and accents. But most of the variety in this collection comes from fills, and having only one viable fill per folder doesn't offer enough to create a convincing bebop rhythm bed.

The Jazz Waltz files offer a bit more variety in the snare patterns, but the kicks rarely hit on anything but one, two, or three. To alleviate the repetitive nature of the kick patterns, you can use the snare-only loops in conjunction with the individual hits or another set of drum samples. That's a nice feature, but with only one snare loop per group, you have few options. The addition of a few snare-only fills would be nice.

The Ballad files have a nice laid-back, lazy feel. However, the eighth notes are too even to be called swing, as they are described in their folders.

Brush Around the World
The four Bossa Nova folders fare considerably better, with delicate brush strokes, crisp sidestick work, and foot-closed hi hats. The sidesticks have a rather long reverb tail, whereas the rest of the kit possesses minimal room ambience; given the difficulty of processing individual instruments in a stereo file, the reverb is a nice touch.

The snare-only tracks in many of the Country folders could be used to enhance guitar and mandolin rhythm parts. The 140 and 160 bpm files in the Country 4 folder, for example, would be great for uptempo bluegrass and country-rock tracks.

The 6/8 offerings have a nice swing to them, including one that resembles the groove of Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters." Unfortunately, the 6/8 performances only provide a single full-kit loop and one snare-only loop for each tempo. The same is true for the bulk of the Backbeat folder and all of the Groove files. A fill or two for each of these would be a welcome addition.

Different Strokes
My main gripe with "Brush Artistry" is that it spreads itself too thin. By attempting to shoehorn so many styles into a single CD, it does short shrift to most of them. Multiple CDs holding more variations per style or a single stylistically focused CD would have helped alleviate this collection's tendency towards sounding repetitive.

Still, given the scads of "slamming," highly processed drum-loop sample CDs, "Brush Artistry" is a welcome relief. Campbell maintains a strong pocket throughout, offering subtlety and drama as needed. As befitting Campbell's skills, the recording is high quality and captures the nuances of his brushwork in great detail. I hope that Big Fish Audio is encouraged to release more specialized and focused projects in this vein.

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