Yanni Spotlights Many Musicians
By Bill Dean
Aficionados of classical and jazz often scoff at new-age, the modern instrumental styling sometimes fused with elements from both.
And Yanni, as one of its most successful and popular artists, is therefore one of the detractors' most visible targets.
As one Lakeland fan said at Yanni's performance Saturday at The Lakeland Center: "You either like him or you don't."
Yes. And after the performer's concert on Saturday, most if not all of the 5,385 in attendance would have lined up in the former category.
And any in the latter category would've left disappointed, not because their suspicions rang true, but because, for the most part, they really didn't.
The pianist/composer's threehour concert played out not as a musical guru reveling in selfaggrandizement, but as a director of sounds more interested in featuring players in his 26-person orchestra than in himself.
The point can't be overstated: Throughout the night's performances of 20 songs, Yanni spotlighted stylists and virtuosos from around the world, and on instruments ranging from violin and flute to Latin percussion and the Australian didgeridoo.
On songs written and arranged by him, from such new material as "For All Seasons" and "The Promise" (from the 2003 album "Ethnicity") to such crowd favorites as Reflections of Passion" from 1990, and 1986's "Santorini," the pianist alternated between a bank of electronic keyboards and a grand piano sharing space at stage front.
Many times while standing at the keyboards, the pianist had his back to the audience, not from any disregard for the audience but to salute, encourage and, ultimately, appreciate many of the featured soloists.
Among them, violinist Karen Briggs and flute/woodwinds player Pedro Eustache, seated on a platform directly above the pianist, impressed the crowd on a number of songs including the new "Play Time," which percolated with fast-paced beats and marvelous interplay between Eustache, on soprano saxophone, and Briggs.
Others include Sri Lankan bassist Hussain Jiffry, Paraguayan harpist Victor Espinola and Australian David Hudson on didgeridoo, the long polelike instrument played in Aborigine cultures and featured Saturday on "Rainmaker" and other songs.
Yanni's music was encompassing enough to embrace and highlight a variety of musical backgrounds -- including Tennessee native Dan Lundrum, whose hammered dulcilmer (along with several violinists) helped turned new-song "World Dance" into a mountain-jam worthy of fiddler Charlie Daniels.
Speaking of string instruments, Yanni's orchestra included nine (five violinists, two violists and two cellists). That's not bad for a group led by a pianist/ keyboardist/synthesizer player whose latter instrument was vilified as a creation that would put string players out of work when popularized in the 1970s and 1980s.
Taken as a whole, the performance had no end of surprising moments from participating performers, which also included a "showdown" between Latin percussionist Walter Rodriguez and Hudson's didgeridoo, as well as a 1970s, arena-style drum solo by longtime Yanni drummer Charlie Adams.
Last but not least, second keyboardist Ming Freeman appeared to be featured on more solos than the bandleader himself.
Yanni told the audience that such performers, from such a myriad of countries and backgrounds, helped add strength and color to his music.
He was right, of course. And while new-age remains an acquired taste in the mainstream, the pianist's approach can't help but make the performer and his style of music more accessible to others as well.
Bill Dean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863802-7527.