Looking at the music of Dutch rock band Focus, started in the late sixties by Thijs Van Leer (b /31/03/48) with Jan Akkerman (b 24/12/46). Van Leer still performs and records under the name today (official site here). Akkerman's site here.

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20121127

Track by track 122

Archive number: 122
Title: Ode to Venus
Main Album: Focus 9 (New Skin)
Track number: 10
Genre: Jazz instrumental
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium
Length: 04:25
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Piano, Hammond organ; Niels Van Der Steenhoven – Guitars; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Bobby Jacobs and Thijs Van Leer
Engineer: Han Nuijten
Label: Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: Summer 2006
Alternative version: None
Notes: This haunting slow jazz instrumental begins with a bass slide and the briefest of caesuras before being led by the electric guitar backed mainly by brushed drums, bass and piano but also featuring the Hammond organ at certain points, which outlasts the final piano chord by some seconds at the end.

20121126

Focus X Review

So amazingly Focus reach double figures with their tenth album. I have held back from writing about it until now as I know by experience that initial impressions can be wrong. Certainly the presence of familiar titles was offputting – a nod backwards in the opening title Father Bacchus (good joke though), yet another Focus track, Le Tango in its umpteenth incarnation, Message Maqique was on a solo album (that also featured Talk of the Clown, there called Pierrot). Van Leer insiders also know that the curiously titled Amok in Kindergarten was directly inspired by the Dunblane incident way back in 1996. Even the title All hens on deck made me nervous as I feared a re-hash of Hurkey Turkey. It turns out to be one of the most attractive numbers on the album.
In fact this is as good a post-Akkerman album as Focus have come up with so far. The only real problem is an over-dependence on Van Leer for the writing and performance, a Van Leer almost shorn of one of his attributes, his voice (his keyboard and flute work are better than ever). Van Der Linden's drumming is of a high order throughout but good drumming though important is a relatively small component in a rock album's make-up.
The opening track is a fine effort from the new guitarist Menno Gootjes, spoiled only by Van Leer announcing the band's name as if in a live setting. The track Focus 10 is fine, though since Focus 5 I feel that particular strand has not been working so well somehow. The third track is currently my favourite. Quite what inspired Victoria I don't know but the result is quintessential Focus. Superb! Amok in Kindergarten is contemplative and an adequate track for inclusion. After the up tempo All hens full of Van Leer scat we have an interesting version of Le Tango that justifies its inclusion by being re-titled Birds come fly over and featuring the veteran Brazilian musician Ivan Lins singing lyrics by Van Leer's ex-wife Roselie Peters (she also provides the spoken lyrics for Crossroads). The decision to hand over the mike to Lins was wise. Presumably there was a similar plan with Van Leer's daughter Berenice for the last track (she is credited but I do not hear her unless she is doing backing vocals). Hoeratio is better known as Horace in the English speaking world. Someone has spotted his reference to the flute in his ars poetica. Van Leer reads this in Latin over a slow Bobby Jacobs written piece that is again only adequate as far as I can see. May be it will grow on me. We then have the two tracks lifted from the 1986 solo album Renaissance. The use of acoustic guitar on the first of these tracks and on Le Tango is refreshing. So there it is a rock album with a lot of jazz or Latin influences but no obviously classical ones. Great guitar work from Gootjes and a solid rhythm section, Van Leer at the height of his powers for the most part.
The CD comes as a little book with artwork from Roger Dean, which adds to the overall enjoyment.

20121124

Track by track 121

Archive number: 121
Title: Curtain call
Main Album: Focus 9 (New Skin)
Track number: 9
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium
Length: 04:31
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, flute; Niels Van Der Steenhoven – Guitars; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Bobby Jacobs and Thijs Van Leer
Engineer: Han Nuijten
Label: Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: Summer 2006
Alternative version: None
Notes: This rousing ensemble is counted in by the drums and soon the band (organ, piano, flute, etc) are involved. There is a break down at 00:28 a slower electric guitar-led theme. These slower themes break in at 00:29-00:39, 00:43-00:53 and 01:09-01:19. At 01:24 the electric guitar grows more whistful and jazzy. The flute leads with its own style 01:52-02:13 that section ending with a swinging staccato conclusion in 02:14-02:24 that includes a piano glissando at 02:23. The flute then returns for a few more bars (02:25-02:37) before the electric guitar leads again with some fine rock playing to take us into the same conclusion just heard with the flute leading (02:38-03:16). The flute leads with a slower section again at 03:17-03:27 before the band races off again with the main theme, the drums growing quicker and more prominent all the while until ending 04:21. This is followed by a 10 second ending in which the guitar delivers one long note and the piano a series of trills.

Track by track 120

Archive number: 120
Title: Focus 9
Main Album: Focus 9 (New Skin)
Track number: 8
Genre: Jazz Rock Instrumental
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium
Length: 07:53
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, flute; Niels Van Der Steenhoven – Guitars; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Bobby Jacobs and Thijs Van Leer
Engineer: Han Nuijten
Label: Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: Summer 2006
Alternative version: None
Notes: The track begins with a rather simple fairly halting and jazz style solo piano introduction (00:00-00:29). The organ, bass and brushed drums then join in with a staccato 4 or 5 note theme reminiscent of Focus 3 (00:30-00:55). The acoustic guitar and piano take up the halting jazz theme (00:56-01:24) before the organ, bass and drums return (01:25-01:49). The bulk of the track, all the way from 01:50 to 05:49, is taken up by the guitar and piano, with the theme growing slightly more melodic at times but remaining very much a jazz piece. At 03:15-03:49 and 04:19-04:50 the flute is dubbed in with the other two instruments. At around 05:53 the organ, bass and drums return with the Focus 3-style element. At 06:20 the acoustic jazz guitar starts to take the lead. From 07:14 it is the Hammond organ's turn. The track is almost done by 07:36 except for two piano trills and a final resounding bass note from the piano (7:37-07:53).