Posted on Sat, Mar. 13, 2004
Yanni successfully fuses rock 'n' roll with orchestral New Age
BY CHRIS SHULL
The Wichita Eagle
You've got to hand it to Yanni.
The pianist-composer-international superstar is the only person around who isn't shy about combining an orchestra and a rock show. He did it with great success Friday night at the Kansas Coliseum, when 4,500 people came to hear his unique kind of instrumental soul.
In two hour-long sets, Yanni presented his hits old and new. There was the soaring, opera-y "Aria," the tune used in a commercial years ago by British Airways that signaled his ascent to stardom; songs first recorded at his famous concert at the Acropolis in Greece, and new music from his latest album, "Ethnicity."
Old or new, each of Yanni's songs followed a familiar pattern. Each mixed frenetic dance club electronica overlaid with strings and halfway jazzy acoustic violin or soprano sax. Brassy punch-chords accentuated the rock 'n' roll beat while Yanni conducted symphonically, long brown hair waving.
His tight black leather pants and long-sleeved black sweater kept up rock concert appearances, while his tasteful piano solos screamed New Age.
It would all be elevator music if not for the real nuance Yanni threw into his orchestral arrangements. It was not just a combination of thumping bass and catchy drums and soaring strings. Yanni's style adds to the mix with world music instruments such as the Australian didgeridoo, the Bohemian cymbalum, wood flutes and harps.
His style at times echoed Spanish flamenco or tangy music from Arabic. It was usually on the sad side, but never heavy; Yanni's music recalls moonlight, not midnight.
But two backup singers never strayed far from good old R&B, and violin soloist Karen Briggs kept things anchored in the blues. Each instrument in the orchestra of strings, brass and percussion had its moment in the fore, adding to the exciting eclecticism of the evening.
The audience loved it; each tune ended with a surge of applause, and Yanni basked in it. Not like a stuck-up star, but like he was genuinely appreciative that folks came out to hear him.
That, along with his music, is the secret to Yanni's success. He came off as honest and real, never phony. He projected a shyness even to the back of the Coliseum.
That, and absolutely top-notch concert production -- lights pulsing colors to the beat, giant video screens getting you up close to the musicians, perfect balance between the instruments -- are what sold Yanni to the world, and what sold him to an appreciative crowd Friday night.