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Yanni adds 'Voices' to his show

By ALAN SCULLEY, Special to the Times Union
First published in print: Thursday, May 14, 2009

Over a 25-year career, composer Yanni has proven time and again that he can write epic instrumental music that merges the worlds of classical, grand pop and light jazz. With his new CD, "Voices," however, Yanni ventured into uncharted territory by adding vocals as a central element to his music.

But according to Yanni, this turned out to be less of a challenge than one might suspect.

"The most difficult thing to do in instrumental music is to find the lead instrument," he said in a recent phone interview.

"But this time, once you have say Chloe (she doesn't use a last name) or Nathan (Pacheco) being the lead instrument, my job is easier," he said, mentioning two of the four featured vocalists on "Voices." "That's the bottom line. This was actually the easiest album I've ever attempted to make because of that."

Fans have been waiting a considerable amount of time to hear new music from Yanni. His most recent studio CD, "Ethnicity," was released in 2003.

That was a long gap considering Yanni had released 15 studio and live albums since coming on the scene in 1984. By the mid-1990s, following the back-to-back successes of his studio CDs "Dare To Dream" (1992), "In My Time" (1993) and "Live At The Acropolis (1993), Yanni was firmly established as the leader of the so-called new age music movement — even though Yanni himself wasn't fond of the new age label.

Since then, new albums arrived about every three years — gaps that happened partly because of the ever-expanding touring schedule that came with his mushrooming popularity. But following the "Ethnicity" album and tour and the release of a 2006 live album, "Yanni Live! The Concert Event," Yanni stepped away from the public eye to plot his next musical move.

As it turned out, the decision to enter the realm of vocal music came about mainly because of a new alliance Yanni had forged with Ric Wake, a leading vocal producer who has worked with Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and a host of other singers.

"It was a very organic process. It was not forced," Yanni said of the decision to do a vocal album. "I became really good friends with him (Wake), and you know, a few months went by and we decided let's start working on music."

The actual process of finding the singers, choosing material for the "Voices" CD and recording the CD was not all that simple, though, and work stretched out over a two-year period.
As the project began to take shape, Yanni and Wake arrived at creating a CD that mixed newly written material with vocal versions of songs from Yanni's previous albums.

Yanni said it wasn't difficult to make vocals work with the previously written instrumental music and he knew that vocals could actually add considerably to his earlier songs.

"I've known all along that my music is very vocal, because my music is based on melody," Yanni said.

There is already talk of solo albums for the singers (the other two singers are Ender Thomas and Leslie Mills), and Yanni expects to work with them on at least another studio CD or two.

But first comes a world-wide tour in support of the "Voices" CD that will give the singers their first extensive test as performers on the big stages of arenas. Yanni said he likes the way the new vocal songs work together with his earlier instrumental material.

"The thing is not disjointed," he said of the show. "It's actually very pleasant. It comes together effortlessly. And the blend between the vocals and the instrumentals, gives us a rest from the voices and gives us a rest from the instruments."

One thing that will be different for fans will be Yanni's appearance itself. Known throughout his career for his flowing shoulder-length black hair and mustache, Yanni has gone clean shaven and cut back his hair. He didn't consider the change in his look to be that big an issue when he did it.

"I went to Greece (his native country) a few years ago and I have a house there and I like scuba diving. Really I'm always in the water," he said. "So I was in the water four or five times a day, in the ocean, scuba diving, and my hair is getting on my nerves. So I said well I'm not going to be on TV for another six months at least, so I figured let me start cutting my hair a little bit. So I cut a little bit and I cut a little bit, and finally I just went why don't you just cut it off and get it over with? Then you can enjoy your summer in the ocean and then you can always grow it back later.

"That was, I don't know, three years ago, four years ago, however long it was ago," Yanni said. "And then I liked it like this. It's much simpler, easier, I don't really care. And the fans seem to, I'm sure some people may be disappointed, but it's not a big deal. It's just hair."

Alan Sculley is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Times Union.


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