The latest EZX expansion pack for Toontrack's popular virtual drum kit software puts at your disposal the kits and grooves of two of the funkiest drummers of all time: Clyde Stubbleﬁeld and John "Jab'o" Starks.
The pair are best known for their work with James Brown, with both appearing on the seminal Sex Machine album. As well as their direct influence within the sphere of drumming, the grooves of Stubbleﬁeld and Starks have featured heavily in genres such as hip-hop and drum'n'bass due to them being frequently sampled.
In fact, the website for the pair's band - The FunkMasters - claims them to be the most sampled drummers of all time.
Funkmasters EZX can be used with EZdrummer or Superior Drummer 2.0. The former method is simpler and shows an eye-popping custom graphic for each setup, although Superior Drummer 2.0 does give you more options.
The kits are comprised of many samples of single drum hits, all played by Clyde and Jab'o on their own setups and recorded at Sound Kitchen in Nashville. In the software mixer, there are mic'd channels for each kit piece, a room mic and overheads (stereo), with additional channels to introduce a vinyl effect and reverb.
Articulations include sidestick on snares; rimshots for snare and toms; and crash, mute, ride and bell for cymbals. Deft hi-hat work is a staple of funk, and there are plenty of variations here, such as closed, tightly-closed, tip or shank, four degrees of openness, open and closed bell, and pedal splash/chick. And there's a woodblock too!
There's a whole load of MIDI grooves for the kits, many of which were performed by Clyde and Jab'o.
In use, these kits sound excellent. Clyde's kick and snare exhibit the tangy resonance heard throughout his playing, while Jab'o's are more damped and militaristic. Clyde's cymbals are brighter, with a pingier ride, and his toms a tad punchier. While obviously ideal for funk, the kits work in many styles; for example, Jab'o's is great for real-sounding metal, due to the tight and consistent kick and snare.
The mixer's vinyl effect is okay, but the reverb is a real standout, being sampled from a hardware plate reverb - it conjures up the cavernous boom of much-sampled funk drum breaks like those of James Brown's Funky Drummer (performed by Stubbleﬁeld) and the JB-produced Think (About It) by Lyn Collins.
The MIDI grooves are divided into straight 4/4 and 6/8 flavours, as well as swung 4/4. They're useful for composing and jamming, and also hold educational value for drummers, since you can play them at half speed or even put them in your sequencer to see exactly what The FunkMasters are playing, complete with the microscopic timing variances that drum tab cannot convey.