For YANNI, the best thing about his latest album, TRUTH OF TOUCH, is that he didn't know he was making it.
It's the world-renowned performer and composer's 19th release over all and first of primarily instrumental music in eight years. But TRUTH OF TOUCH was borne not as an album with a game plan but rather as the result of time YANNI spent in his Miami recording studio after a pair of vocal albums--YANNI VOICES and the Spanish language YANNI VOCES in 2009--simply playing music, experimenting and “having fun.”
“I wasn't even trying to make an album,” YANNI recalls. “I just felt like writing music. I happened to be at a point where I wasn't stressed out about going on tour or having to deliver an album for anybody. It was just a six-month period where every night I just walked into my studio and I had fun. It was effortless. I felt the music. It just showed itself to me. It was probably the best way to do an album.”
The result is a dazzling 15-song set filled with familiar conventions and new sounds and approaches. Recorded with producer-songwriter Ric Wake, the key collaborator on YANNI VOICES, TRUTH OF TOUCH reflects the creative relaxation YANNI felt in the studio, which in turn yielded a dynamic, broad-reaching mindset that blended the “traditional” YANNI sound with more robust textures and more aggressive rhythms. From the smoothly descending chords of the title track to the Latin flavors of “Seasons,” “Mist of a Kiss” and “Yanni & Arturo,” the Indian lilt of “Flash of Color,” the rock muscle of “Vertigo” and the hip-hop lope of “I'm So,” TRUTH OF TOUCH is a statement of fearless creative adventurism--which anyone with even a passing familiarity would expect from YANNI.
“I refer to it as YANNI 2011,” says Wake. “It takes the best of what he used to do and makes it something that's very modern and new, but I still think the fans who loved the other records will love this, too.” YANNI adds that making TRUTH OF TOUCH “was very pure, like the old, old albums where I used to go in and do whatever I wanted. That's exactly what I did with this one--no rules, walk in, 'What do you feel like?' I'd hear a melody in my mind and I'd go with it.
“I wanted it to be fresh. I wanted the album to be edgy, and I also wanted it to be honest. It's easy to say 'Let's make it fresh. Let's make it edgy,' and another thing to actually do it. But that's how we approached it this time.”
That spirit, of course, is part and parcel of YANNI's approach to music, and to life, since he was born Yanni Chryssomallis in thesouthern Greek metropolis of Kalamata. Gifted with perfect pitch, he taught himself to play piano and also excelled in the swimming pool, where he set a Greek national record in the 50-meter freestyle when he was just 14. At the University of Minnesota--which gave him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2005--YANNI studied psychology, but ultimately decided that “it wasn'ta real science yet. There was too much conflicting information.” He instead dedicated himself to music, which YANNI felt was “a time bomb ticking inside” him. He playedin a band called Chameleon before moving to Los Angeles, where he released his first album, OPTIMYSTIQUE, in 1980 (though it had been recorded nine years prior) and delved deeply into instrumental music, later incorporating some vocal pieces to complement and complete his palette.
“I've got to tell you, I don't like music with rules,” YANNI says. “There are no rules. I have an emotion to express, and I will use any combination of instruments or vocals or lyrics--whatever I feel is the best way to express that emotion.”
Success came in waves. REFLECTIONS OF PASSION in 1990 was his first million-seller. DARE TO DREAM netted YANNI's first Grammy Award nomination two years later, and YANNI LIVE AT THE ACROPOLIS, an album/video/PBS special project, was a breakthrough, seen by half a billion people in 65 countries and selling more than 7.5 million copies worldwide--and beginning a long association with PBS that's included events such as TRIBUTE and LIVE AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL.
Most important to YANNI, ACROPOLIS and the other works found an audience for his music, majestic creations that he designed to be positive and life-affirming.
“I want to remind people of their potential for greatness,” he says. “I want to inspire as well as to entertain them. I don't preach to people, but the uplifting part is something that goes in because of who I am. I don't sit down and say 'Now I'm going to write music that is inspiring.' I can't do that. But who you are affects everything you can create.”
The fans have felt that. YANNI has sold more than 35 million albums globally and his 2003 autobiography, YANNI IN WORDS, made the New York Times bestseller list. Moreover, TV and especially sports broadcasts have found his music to be an effective soundtrack, incorporating it in many Olympic Games as well as ABC's “WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS,” the World Figure Skating Championships, the Tour de France and other events.
Recent years have found YANNI immersing himself more in vocal music with the release of YANNI VOICES and YANNI VOCES, while he also joined the Mexican Bicentennial celebration with 2010's MEXICANISMO. All the while, however, YANNI continued with his studio explorations, crafting more than 300 songs during the past few years.
“Exploration is a good word,” YANNI says. “I was sound designing. I designed quite a lot of new sounds. I just started playing around with the equipment and got inspired by the sounds I would discover. The only prerequisite is it had to turn me on. It had to keep me interested. At this point in my life, I'm a very choosy character.”
What's most pronounced on TRUTH OF TOUCH is what YANNI calls “a beautiful complexity in the rhythmic quality of the album,” driving many of the songs with sturdy and sinewy beats that sound both contemporary and timeless. “I come from the Mediterranean; I've always had rhythm inside my blood,” explains YANNI, adding that this time he substituted tricky time signatures for “a little more straightforward, with a little more Western kind of attitude on the rhythms--although there's still a complexity, a lot of rhythms coming against other rhythms causing you to feel a third or a fourth rhythm that adds so much to the songs.”
Co-producer Wake says that rhythmic direction “came from YANNI. It's just different life experiences. He's a different person since he did (ETHNICITY). There have been a lot of influences since then. I was really surprised. I didn't expect it, but I was very happy about it.”
A particular highlight of the project was “Yanni & Arturo,” a team-up with Cuban trumpet greatArturo Sandoval that first appeared on the YANNI VOCES album. “It's a joy to work with him,” YANNI says. “He's so developed. He can go so high with his trumpet, and so fast, and musically his brain is so amazing. The communication is faster than language with us. The opening part of the song, where you're hearing the piano and the trumpet, is a complete improvisation of one time only.”
TRUTH OF TOUCH also continues YANNI's work in the vocal realm, bringing in several of his VOICES team. Nathan Pacheco sings the operatic “O Luce Che Brilla Nell'oscurita,” while Leslie Mills lends her smoky tones to “Can't Wait” and Chloe Lowery, who YANNI calls “my little tiger,” voices the album-closing “Secret.”
“I wanted the album to be a journey,” YANNI says. “I wanted to take you through places and I wanted to surprise you here and there. I didn't want it to be a vocal album like VOICES and VOCES, but a couple of vocals here and there, I think, enhance it. It gives you a point of departure and then a place to come back to.
“What I like about this album is you can put it on a loop. It just finishes and turns around and starts playing again and makes you feel good.”
YANNI expects similar emotions when he begins touring to support TRUTH OF TOUCH with a show he promises will be “the true Yanni experience” that features music from throughout his career. But even as the road beckons, YANNI's heart is also back in the studio with all of that music he's created of late and with the excitement of what he feels will come in the future.
“There's a lot of music nobody has heard because we haven't released it, but it will be released eventually,” YANNI promises. “I'm just having fun with music. What I've learned is when a song hits you, when something moves you to write, it's an emotion. All of life comes together, and you have to follow it. The whole idea is to lead the audience, surprise the audience. I don't want the audience to lead me; I want to lead them, take them through a journey and surprise them. They don't know what's coming next, but what's coming next will be a pleasant surprise, not a cold shower.”