The Focus Family Album is a hearty collection of Focus’ music as a band as well as a showcase for the players that make the music happen
In and Out of Focus Records / Cherry Red
2 discs: disc I - 10 tracks / 44:15 disc II - 10 tracks / 44:16
The Dutch masters are at it again, this time with a double-disc package that offers a cornucopia of all things Focus - including unreleased and new tracks. Living up to the ‘family album’ concept, along with the Focus tracks there are solo offerings from the band’s new bassist, Udo Pannekeet, their stunning guitarist Menno Gootjes, Swung (which is basically Focus minus Thijs van Leer), and drummer Pierre Van Der Linden. Swung was born during sound-checks, as the band improvised before empty venues. They jam relentlessly two times on the collection, as does long-time Focus drummer/percussionist Pierre Van Der Linden - the latter providing a pair of wordless yet articulate drum pieces. Of course the man himself, Thjis van Leer, starts off each of the two discs with stunningly beautiful solo flute pieces (“Nature is Our Friend,” and Let Us Wander”) accompanied only by sounds of nature. The remaining ten tracks are made up of alternate versions of songs from Focus X and tracks from the beginning of the Focus XI sessions.
As expected, the Focus songs are outstanding – all bearing the unmistakable Focus fingerprint of strong melody, changing tempos, moody chords evolving into inspirational themes, and (of course) spectacular musicianship.
“Song For Eva” is a slow, jazzy melodic instrumental that’s a solid new entry into the Focus catalog. Thjis does a spoken-word piece in the beginning - the ensemble playing from the drums, bass and guitar are stunningly beautiful. “Victoria,” originally from Focus X, remains basically unchanged but is always a joy to hear, featuring all of the things we love about Focus.
A nasty, visceral riff introduces “Mosh Blues,” the first of two blues tracks – a musical genre that this band rarely ventures into, even though there’s always a basic underlay of blues in the guitar lines of most Focus songs. The band struts its improvisational stuff on this mostly instrumental track (though there’s a wonderful moment of scat singing) as well as on the other blues song, “Fine Without You.” At just over seven minutes long, this song, with an excellent vocal by Jo De Roeck (who also is the writer), shows how a good group of musicians can keep things interesting in an already well-explored genre.
We get some high energy Focus with “The Fifth Man,” some classically beautiful Focus with “Clair Obscur,” and the hymn-like “Santa Teresa,” which has vocals by Ivan Lins.
“Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango),” originally on Focus X, is here this time with Thjis handling the vocal section.
“Five Fourths” and “Winnie” are each classic Focus instrumentals with the unmistakable van Leer chord structures and strong melodies, with inventive explorations and playing by the entire band.
Udo Panakeet shows a melodic, introspective side in “Song For Yamina” and some funky chops on “Anaya,” his two solo bass offerings.
The pair of solo outings by Menno Gootjes are impressive indeed. “Two Part Invention” is an overdubbed duet in the classical mode – short and sweet at less than a minute and a-half, and “Hazel” is an engaging, gentle acoustic guitar piece. In contrast to the light touch of Gootjes’ instrumentals, Swung jams heartily on “Raga Reverence 1” and Raga Reverence 5.”
The Focus Family Album is a hearty collection of Focus’ music as a band as well as a showcase for the players that make the music happen. Koffka’s implication about the sum of the parts not being equal to the whole might apply to some musical collaborations, but in the case of Focus’ newest release we get to have the ‘whole’ and the ‘parts’ all in the same package, and a very enjoyable package it is!
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