Yanni — Dare to Dream

at the Macauley Theatre

By Ray Yates

With a name like Yanni and the common grouping of his CDs with "New Age" artists, it might be easy get the impression that his music is electronic elevator music. A quick look around the stage at the 45 synthesizers and pianos, the massive drums and percussion ensemble, together with a touring group of eight supporting musicians, quickly dispelled that notion. On hand were two keyboardists, two violinists, a cellist, a drummer, and a percussionist — with diverse musical backgrounds in pop, classical and jazz.

Born in Kalamata, Greece, the 37-year-old musician and composer has concentrated his efforts on instrumental music. Reflections of Passion, a collection of romantic themes released in 1990, rose to the top of Billboard's Adult Alternative charts. Yanni himself prefers the general label of modern instrumental music and considers the term New Age meaningless.

The intimate setting of the Macauley Theatre was the perfect setting for a spectacular performance. Many of the approximately 17 works performed were from the new Dare to Dream CD. The live arrangements of these were slightly different due to the diverse talents available.

The concert began with a sitar-like synthesizer sound and a melodic line with an ethnic European flavor that suddenly changed rhythmically and dynamically, forming a perfect plate for two very tasty violin solos by Charlie Bishardt. The next two songs evolved from romantic themes into lively piano and violin works. A flurry of blues scale notes and dramatic tempo changes followed as the piano of Bradley Joseph took charge.

A series of complex progressions and timing changes led to a powerful funk bass solo by Osama Afifi. When joined by Karen Brigs on violin and with a Latin-sounding rhythm, the resulting musical texture was unlike anything I had heard before.

The audience's enthusiastic reaction to this piece seemed to surprise and delight Yanni and the band. Nice thing about Macauley; no matter where you sit, you can still see the reaction of the performers. The worst seat in the house is wonderful.

The audience, not surprisingly, was disproportionately female. Yanni is tall, dark, has a mane of curly hair, and comes across on stage as being humorous and sensitive. It is irrelevant whether this represents the true Yanni or good marketing. It is good music and seems to have carved out a niche in a market dominated by country and pop.

After a few old favorites, Yanni reached into his new album and began "The One Who Knows," a piano work that was dedicated to his father. The cello accompaniment was incredibly beautiful and performed by the equally beautiful native Kentuckian Sachi McHenry.

The next set of tunes twisted and turned like a roller coaster. There were passages of very rock sounding grooves reminiscent of Kansas, to a dark ominous theatrical work to upbeat-sounding pop rhythms. Suddenly, you found yourself in the middle of a percussion piece, featuring Michael Bruno, and a very original violin duel.

When Yanni himself took center stage on the Yamaha grand piano, sharing the spot-light with drummer and long-time friend Charlie Adams, I thought I was listening to Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. (Well, maybe not.) The piece ran through a flurry of time changes from 7/8 to 9/8 to 10/8 and back to 7/8, displaying a technical skill not always apparent when listening to CDs. The drum solo that followed was one of the few that I've ever seen that was funny and truly entertaining.

Finally the band returned and Julie Homi on keyboards took command with a melodic theme immediately recognized by the audience. The band turned in two encores to standing ovations, ending a night of work for a very talented group and a gifted composer.