It's been eight years since Yanni released a primarily instrumental album.
And for the world-renowned performer/composer, who will be at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on April 30, the best thing about his newest album, "Truth of Touch," is that he didn't know he was making it.
He was simply having fun making music, something he's done since he was a small child in Greece when his mother would get him out of bed by playing a few notes of a tune and leaving him to jump up and finish the phrase.
“I wasn't even trying to make an album,” Yanni said. “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's "Voices" album, "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,” the "Truth of Touch" album is a statement of fearless creative adventurism.
“I refer to it as Yanni 2011,” said 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.”
The making this new album “was very pure, like the old, old albums where I used to go in and do whatever I wanted," Yanni said. "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.”
“I've got to tell you, I don't like music with rules,” Yanni said. “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.”
Yanni has sold more than 35 million albums globally and his 2003 autobiography, "Yanni In Words," made the New York Times best-seller list. Moreover, TV and especially sports broadcasts have found his music to be an effective soundtrack.
In recent years, Yanni immersed himself more in vocal music. All the while, however, he continued with his studio explorations, crafting more than 300 songs.
“Exploration is a good word,” Yanni said. “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,” Yanni explained.
Co-producer Wake said 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 great Arturo Sandoval.
“It's a joy to work with him,” Yanni said. “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. 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 sings the album-closing “Secret.”
“I wanted the album to be a journey,” Yanni said. “I wanted to take you through places and I wanted to surprise you here and there.
“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.”
He expects similar emotions on his tour with a show he promises will be “the true Yanni experience."
“There's a lot of music nobody has heard because we haven't released it, but it will be released eventually,” Yanni said. “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.”
Sharon Haddock is a professional freelance writer with 30 years experience, 17 of those at The Deseret News. She has a personal blog called Grandma's Place: http://sharonhaddock.blogspot.com/