As the second night of the Sound and Fury Festival raged on one side of Santa Barbara, a different sort of noise was gently, affectionately caressing the other. Like the hero of a romance novel, Yanni appeared on Saturday evening to sweep us off our feet with his sensual brand of symphonic world music. Backed by drums, bass, harp, piano, two percussionists, strings, brass and wind sections, and approximately 200 keyboards, the Greek-born composer took a well-attended crowd on a journey across countries and continents as he rearranged his players with masterful precision.
Among the many genres visited by Yanni and friends were soft rock, classical, samba, disco, light jazz, and Chinese folk music. He told us that he’d recently returned from China, where he was invited to become the adopted father of a panda, an honor normally reserved “almost exclusively for countries respected by China.” In fact, he is the first westerner to receive it.
But no composer can take the spotlight all the time, no matter how many pandas he has. On Saturday night, Yanni shared the stage with some quality soloists, including Armen Anassian on violin, Victor Espinola on harp, and Charlie Adams on drums, who laid down a solo that would definitely take the wind out of any band at Sound and Fury. If the show suffered from anything, it was the overabundance of precision. In between soloing on keyboard or piano with one hand, conducting band members with the other, and exuding sex appeal in between, there seemed to be little challenge left for Yanni. Even his bandmates nailed their notes without batting an eyelash, leaving us to wonder if a little sweat and grime every now and then doesn’t brighten up the picture.