Popular New Age keyboardist Yanni is almost impossible to avoid on television, whether performing soundtracks for various sports broadcasts or one of countless concerts that seem to be broadcast repeatedly on public TV stations. Though jazz fans have long ridiculed this best-selling artist's work, which has a tendency to be simultaneously showy, bombastic and vapid, the self-taught musician evidently has been secretly woodshedding on acoustic piano for some time, resulting in this startling tribute to the greatest jazz pianist of them all, Art Tatum.
Yanni is actually heard in three different settings on this studio effort. He has a trio similar to Tatum's, featuring guitarist Lee Ritenour and bassist Marcus Miller (though Miller forgoes singing in octave unison with his bass line a la Slam Stewart). The trio doesn't make the mistake of attempting to copy Tatum's recordings note for note, but captures the spirit of the late virtuoso's technique with Yanni's own stunning and swinging arrangements of Tatum's specialties.
The trio is heard on four tracks, with the highlights including an easygoing "Gone With the Wind and swinging "Sweet Lorraine with virtuoso flourishes not unlike Tatum's so-called "trick waterfall arpeggios. The sidemen keep their solos brief, generally taking no more than two choruses apiece. Violinist Karen Briggs, who has toured with Yanni, appears on the duet of Antonin Dvorak's "Humoresque, sounding reminiscent of Stuff Smith with her gritty sound (though Smith never recorded with Tatum). Yanni readily adapts to the whimsical nature of this work.
The balance of the CD consists of solo performances. Without resorting to shallow showboating, Yanni's technique comes to the forefront in his blazing renditions of such Tatum showstoppers as "Begin the Beguine," "Yesterdays, "I Know That You Know, Margarita Lecouna's "Taboo and Jules Massenet's "Elegie. His lyrical side is displayed in his warm interpretations of "Danny Boy and "Willow Weep For Me.
I never thought I would say this, but I have finally come to appreciate Yanni.
Personnel: Yanni/piano (all tracks)
Lee Ritenour/guitar (2, 4, 6, 9)
Marcus Miller/bass (2, 4, 6, 9)
Karen Briggs/violin (8)
Jonathan Widran/liner notes