Review & Retrospective: Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad Ride

An Amazing Cymbal…but was I Truly Listening?

1. Review in Short: Read & Run

  • That was me who reviewed the Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad ride for MD
  • The brightness I noted during the review still prevails at close range
  • This cymbal ought to be heard from afar as well
  • It’s a lot fatter and richer in overtones than I realized
  • It’s a versatile multi-genre ride, particularly good for bop and shuffle
  • It’s heavy enough to project, sensitive enough for low volume gigs
  • The ping is prominent, the brightness obvious. Beware: plentiful exotic, dark undertones lurk beneath. I missed some of these first time ’round.
Student Ian Crawford examines the mysteries of the Istanbul Agop Muhammad ride

My student Ian Crawford is enthralled by the Istanbul Muhammad ride

2. Review In-Depth: Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad Ride Then & Now

I reviewed this Turkish-made ride for Modern Drummer some time ago. Thanks to Scott Likken, head of Istanbul Agop’s LA facility, I’ve been able to hang onto the review cymbal for use on gigs and as reference for the current review. Scott has a big hand in designing and selecting the cymbals that travel to the USA bearing the Istanbul Agop stamp.

I explained to Scott, following the MD review, that I’d enjoy trying the Idris ride in the studio on an upcoming pop session, which would necessitate me bringing along a funky but more “normal” ride than the stereotypical dark and trashy Turkish “K-style” rides I’m fond of: Pardon the pun but they don’t always wash with mainstream artist requirements.

The session came and went. I used the Istanbul Agop Muhammad ride and it made it on fully two of four songs. On playbacks, I noted that the overtones seemed more complex and dark than was evident out on the floor. In fact, these overtones—you could call them undertones—were more obvious than I’d let on in my review for MD.

Idris Muhammad is someone for whom the term “funky drummer” was coined. Listen to Idris shuffle on “Broadway”, a track from the Lenny White produced album Organic Grooves. Check out Idris’s relaxed time feel on John Scofield’s Groove Elation. Although both albums predate the debut of the Idris signature ride, they give you an idea of Idris’s touch and deeply entrenched groove. They suggest that Idris works best with an articulate ride that spreads moderately between hits. If he’s riding quarter-notes, as in “Broadway”, he’s happy as a clam with a dry cymbal that doesn’t give up the goods immediately—one that has a little something in reserve.

Accordingly, the Istanbul Agop Idris is a perfect ride for a swing/bop groove or shuffle since it’s got the attack necessary to keep things dancing. When sticks move from closed hats to ride, speaking verse to chorus, there’s no loss of presence. The ride has some “weight” that carries the time proportionate to the ticking of stick on closed hats. And there’s more underneath that you can scoop out—part of the fun of playing cymbals.

The Agop Istanbul collection is made, you guessed it, in Istanbul, Turkey, a city that hosts more cymbal brands than you can shake a stick at. Some of these cymbal companies mirror the hand hammering, lathing, and other processes that distinguished the old K Zildjian, which emigrated to Canada, then upped and rejoined the family in Boston. Here Zildjian manufactures popular A. Zildjians and K. Zildjians, the latter representing the restoring of old country lineage. When we talk about the “K sound”, there’s disagreement among drummers but there’s consensus on a darker, more exotic, sometimes drier tone.

This is to say drummers who prefer the old K sound often hope that it will be recreated exactly in modern cymbals. This was the hope when the Istanbul brand made the scene firs time around.

Personnel records indicate that two brothers, Mehmet and Agop, worked at the original K factory in Istanbul. When their employer closed doors, a couple of years later they opened their own factory. When their product hit the American scene under the Istanbul banner, American drummers were delighted and perceived them as carriers of the K torch. “They’re back”, exclaimed one prominent swing/big band player in an MD ad that depicted him gazing at the shimmering, dimpled contents inside a crate shipped from Turkey.

The brothers did as brothers do: they quarreled and split up. Each retained a part of the company, which they reshaped and branded, one named Istanbul Mehmet, the other Istanbul Agop. As time passed, although the Agop thread seemed more successful, Mehmet has kept at it with acclaimed results. Agop seemed to make more headlines, however, due to eminent endorsers like Matt Chamberlain and Lenny White. And then Idris.

Idris Muhammad was cutting pivotal jazz/groove/pop albums before you were born. His signature Istanbul Agop ride features a moderately low profile, a fairly heavy weight that spelled bite but with thin edges that wobbled and washed just enough. Lathe grooves were not evident on the underside, which remained a rusty panorama, interrupted by sizable craters, evidence of hammer blows. After all was said and done, the top received an extra round of “over-hammering”, the idea being to compress the metal in the stick attack region.

The strategy worked and the Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad ride is a viable option today, a good candidate for swing bop, shuffle, and other styles. Furthermore, this 3175 gram/7 lb. 22” ride cymbal, features a good-sized cup that does fine in a Cuban shout-chorus or in any milieu that requires clean bell patterns.

Hozzle It

The “hozzle” of the drumstick is that part, as Rick Marotta terms it, which is situated south of the tip and north of the butt end, a little past the mid-section. When you strike with the hozzle across the bow (not the edge) the Istanbul Idris will erupt into a crash, which quickly “gates” down. To me, this is the deciding factor when choosing a ride: I want this “push crash” to be lower in pitch, shorter in duration, and darker than, say, the one you’d get out of an A. Zildjian. As I reported in the MD review, I liked the balance of bright and dark in the Idris signature cymbal, noting that the bright component was stronger. I put the issue to rest, privately concluding that the cymbal was a little less exotic than benchmark old Turkish Ks—not exactly a critical factor when young drummers choose a ride! Something kept nagging at me, namely that I had missed something important.

Jeremy Taggard riding Istanbul Agop cymbal, playing Craviotto drums; photo by TBruce Wittet for cymbal review

Jeremy Taggart riding his Istanbul Agop Muhammad ride, Montreal Drum Fest 2010

Listen to the Ride Close…and Distant

The eye opener for me was the Montreal Drum Fest 2010, which I covered a few weeks ago on this site and elsewhere. There I witnessed my old friend Jeremy Taggart (Our Lady Peace) performing. I knew that Jeremy was endorsing Istanbul Agop. I knew in addition that, like me, he was a fan of the dark, funky old Turkish-made Ks, now gone and selling super-expensive on eBay.

Jeremy’s ride blew me away in that “old K sense”. His hi-hats were gorgeous, as were his crashes, quick in response, fat in tone, and capable of short bursts or longer sustains. But it was Jeremy’s ride that captivated me: it was more like an old K than anything else.

Afterward, we had a chat in the dressing room. Talk turned to the ride. “Oh yeah,” he exclaimed, “I love it. It’s really got everything: the old K wash, the attack, the ….” and so on.

I flipped. The ride cymbal he’d been playing was the very model I had retained from Istanbul Agop following the MD review: the Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad signature ride. The aforementioned brighter, stingier attributes were still there but took second place, at least under the force of Jeremy’s stick, to a funkier, darker complement of undertones. To me, Jeremy’s ride, the same model I’d reviewed, sounded extremely close to an old K and could have fooled me. It did fool me! Guess what I did when I got home! Right. And I listened to my students play it, too, one of whom appears in the photos.

TBruce Wittet's photo & his student, Ian Crawford, working the Istanbul Agop Muhammad ride

Student Ian Crawford rides Istanbul Agop Idris ride into the shadows

Don’t Judge, Just Listen

The old guys, and I’m becoming one of them, used to tell me that I shouldn’t judge a ride by solely by how it sounds over top. I took their counsel with a grain of salt, my reasoning being that I like to hear the good stuff from where I’m sitting. Second guessing what the audience is hearing is not my forté or my inclination. But there I was, in effect a member of the audience at the DrumFest, perceiving his ride at a distance and it was a different animal.

A word about hearing at close range. The matter became crucial when I was doing sessions each week. With overhead mics placed a foot above my head, I wanted them to “hear” what I heard. A cymbal that sounded good at twenty paces meant little to me in those days, not until engineers began using distant/ambient mics. Those mics, sometimes called “room mic”, enabled one to hear drums as they “blossomed”. At any rate, the tug between live and studio requirements had me maintaining separate cymbal bags for live and studio.

There you go. Perceptions shift at a distance, just as the old guys had lectured. If you’re sound checking at a club, wondering what the audience will hear so that you can decide to boost the overhead mics, it’s worth asking someone to play time while you wander out into the hall. What I’ve learned through the Idris experience is that what’s audible at a distance is likely audible at close range…provided you’re listening. Listening might mean encircling the cymbal while riding, straining the arm to reach it and the neck to catch stray overtones. It might mean getting down six inches from the surface or standing on a chair (“you can leave your hat on”) and checking out the sound from that unnatural vantage point. It’s all part of gaining new perspectives and abandoning preconceived notions.

Listen “Between the Lines”

The sparkling bouquet of overtones that predominated when heard from above, and which steered my Modern Drummer review, are still there. But hearing is more perceptual and less objective than I would have imagined. Now when I listen from close range, there are many dark overtones in the mix.

The deal is that Jeremy’s cymbal projected through the din owing to those bright overtones; it’s the same reason and ultra-thin ride like the KZ Custom Dry Complex, which ordinarily would prevail in the quietest of stage settings, stands proud in cluttered mixes. It’s no rock ride, mind you, but the profile has been bumped up, a factor that raises pitch and enhances cut. A higher pitch cymbal, all things equal, carries further. When it carries further, it survives…any other attributes become available to the listener; they don’t die ten feet distant.

Maybe I in past I’d missed out on many a good ride cymbal. I thought I was getting good at “cymbal spotting” but as I listened from side stage at Jeremy riding the Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad ride, it seemed he might have been riding on a classic, old Turkish K. Could have fooled me. Did fool me!

Anyway, before the cymbal finally goes back to Istanbul, I’ve learned a lot and I enjoy riding the Idris ride. It feels more like an old cymbal than a new one. The overtones don’t go crazy; I don’t have to plaster the bottom with adhesive tape, as I do with my other old Ks. And if I need it, I can get a hearty crash that doesn’t last forever, thanks, I guess, to the unlathed bottom.

What can I say? I stand by my original review in Modern Drummer,but I’m glad to offer a qualification today. Readers of the magazine, and visitors to this site, rely on reviewers’ credibility and objectivity when choosing rides at the store. The danger is that they provide generic observations or, as in the current instance, well-intended and accurate opinions that might have shifted by adopting a fresh perspective.

Photo by TBruce Wittet found in his review, Istanbul Agop Idris Muhammad ride cymbal

Istanbul Agop Muhammad ride at rest

The Istanbul Agop Idris is a deceiving, cunning cymbal. It’s a little bright out of the gate but I realize now that there’s depth here beyond what initially meets the ear. This is the sort of cymbal that a drummer purchases following a snap decision, horse trades it, and hears in a club months later. In the hands of another it is the stuff of dreams.