Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


September 1999 Supplement

YANNI Steal the Sky    Music from the film   RHINO R2 75668 [44:03]



I have to confess that before I was sent this CD to review I knew nothing of Yanni beyond his name. Perhaps therefore an introduction is in order, though it may be that I alone am in ignorance, for the publicity material which came with the CD says that a release by Yanni is the third best selling videocassette title ever. I suspect that this means within the sub-category of music video in the USA, but even so, a considerable popularity is evidenced. Yanni is, like Vangelis, a Greek musician who makes albums of electronic music and sometimes scores films. According to the brief but useful insert notes by album producer Ford A. Thaxton, Yanni has also scored Frank Nitti: The Enforcer, Heart of Midnight, I'll Take Romance and Children of the Bride.

Steal the Sky was a 1988 Home Box Office TV movie starring Mariel Hemingway and Ben Cross. Generally well regarded, it tells a story of love and espionage during the Six Day War. The title cue opens with atmospheric sweeps of synthesiser, before introducing a relentless pounding militaristic beat and electronic horn calls. Exciting it is too, just the sort of thing Jerry Goldsmith might have done to liven-up Executive Decision. A more Arabic flavour is introduced in later tracks, while the cimbalom, so favoured by John Barry, adds a welcome touch of acoustic warmth. The second track, 'Fountain/Life is Serious' seems to predate Eduard Artemyev's gorgeous ethnic sound for Urga, while an accordion in track three takes us into Dr Zhivago territory. The mood becomes more suspenseful with several pieces involving the stealing of a jet plane, and more military style action of a rather relentless and percussive character. It all leads to a weak, would-be triumphant climax in the vastly overlong 'Munir Lands the Plane'. The cimbalom returns for the sad, star-crossed lovers 'Finale', before more action music takes us to before a bonus track, a version of The Beatle's Nowhere Man, played by an uncredited Arab ensemble and used in the film as source music.

There are several problems with this album. The first and most obvious is that the music is really not very good. The first two tracks are the most enjoyable, after which the disc rapidly becomes tiresome. However, this is not entirely due to the repetitive and undeveloped nature of the music, but rather more a result of the sound. The synthesisers, circa 1988, are harsh, thin and lacking in depth, harmonics or real sense of musical presence. However, given that Vangelis was producing far richer electronic soundscapes over a decade before, it may be that the original recording simply wasn't very good. Unfortunately, whatever the recording, the range of sounds Yanni employs is also very limited, making it somewhat ironic that in the notes he tells us, regarding the development of the synthesiser, "We are in an era of the evolution of sound. Like a painter who traditionally had 100 colors on his palette and now has 1000, the array of musical sounds one can produce is mind-boggling."

Because one makes unconscious mental compensations, it really only struck me when the entirely acoustic bonus track arrived, quite how bad the sound until that point had been. The Arab ensemble sounds fresh and alive, revealing how restricted the electronic tracks are in comparison. It is as if, immediately an oppressive weight has been removed from the ears, and one, metaphorically sighs with relief at the new-found clarity and dynamic, with real instruments being allowed to 'breath' in musical space. Going back to the electronic tracks, the sound really does reveal itself to be remarkably poor for a late 1980's recording. Clearly Mr Thaxton is aware of the problem, for a note (which one can only read after purchasing the disc, it being hidden within the folds of the insert sheet) reads 'This album has been digitally remastered from the best possible analog source material. Every effort has been made to minimize noise and the distortion inherent in the source material. ' I'm sure this is the case, but with the additional problem of micro-second drop-outs, listening to this album becomes a chore.

Given the problems with the recording and the lack of any really outstanding music material to encourage perseverance, I can only really recommend the disc to Yanni completists. General buyers would probably be better served if the first two tracks were to find their way onto a broader ranging compilation of the composer's work.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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