Big Fish Audio's LA Drum Sessions ($99.95) consists of three CD-ROMs packed with Acidized WAV-file grooves that you can easily arrange into a variety of song forms. The session drummers varied their hardware setups, using different snare sizes and different sticks to best enhance each style. During the recording process, different mics and mic techniques were used as needed. At mixdown and mastering, the producers applied an appropriate amount of dynamics processing for each performance. For example, funk, rock, and other hard-hitting styles demanded more compression, whereas the jazz-oriented styles required only gentle limiting.
The package touts the collection as having more than 6,000 loops, but the library actually consists of 2,000 loops offered in three versions: dry, room ambience, and a mix of dry and ambient. That arrangement lets you combine a dry track with an ambient track and adjust the balance between the two, which works quite well. You can also boost the overall ambience on some tracks with a bit of small-room-type reverb if the tracks still sound too dry for your taste.
LA Drum Sessions offers a diverse grab bag of musical styles in more than 80 categories, including multiple flavors of rock, jazz, blues, swing, disco, country, and even zydeco. Each folder provides a specific performance broken down into one- and two-bar patterns. With three CDs' worth of material, the folders have ample content to flesh out a song. The Acidizing is well done, allowing you to adjust song tempos with minimal artifacts, and the tracks dovetail nicely into song form.
As is common with drum-groove libraries, the overplaying in this collection sometimes makes the tracks stand out too much in an arrangement. “Country Shuffle 160,” for example, has a cool swing, but the fills should be sparser, and the side stick should at least occasionally supplant the snares on two and four. Although these tracks are way too busy for the average country tune, their brash attitude and heavy bounce would strut perfectly in a Doctor John — type two-beat feel.
Likewise, the Chicago Blues tracks at 120 bpm are too busy; the 88 bpm Blues tracks fare much better. Most of the funk tracks are also too busy and lacking in dynamics. “Late Night 150” swings relentlessly, but in that case, the combination of laid-back timing and busy fills works in its favor. The files would fit nicely in a modern big-band swing chart. “Reggae 130” is noteworthy for its timbale-like snare fills and accents, lilting hi-hats, and clever rim shots and flams. A folder of rolls and comedy hits was fun to play with and might come in handy for soundtracks or special effects.
Making the Audition
Instead of providing printed documentation in a booklet, the first LA Drum Sessions CD includes a PDF file that lists the folders, the number of files in each folder, and the corresponding tempos. Although the file names are marginally descriptive, you can't tell what the performances are like until you audition the individual files. An indexed audio CD would have been a great time-saver for checking each groove's suitability.
The file-naming system further exacerbates the problem by offering no indication of whether a track is an intro, a fill, or a groove. The files are numbered sequentially, but sorting out which is which requires listening to each file until you find something appropriate. Some folders contain individual or paired-instrument hits, such as kick and crash. They're not enough to build a complete kit in your sampler, but you could drop these hits into a track to add variety to an existing groove.
Despite my complaints, the LA Drum Sessions collection offers good value for your investment; I found many useful gems in the package. The playing is tight where it needs to be and appropriately loose limbed where the style calls for it. If you want to build a decent library of all-purpose drum grooves, LA Drum Sessions is a good place to start. Check out the demo at the Big Fish Audio Web site.