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Focus: The Focus Family Album
Here's a great 2CD compilation from Dutch progressive rock legends Focus that brings together rare and unreleased material from various band & solo sessions, which is why it's very appropriately titled The Focus Family Album. Adorned with some pretty cool artwork from the equally legendary Roger Dean, The Focus Family Album contains a wealth of material that includes the Focus X sessions, solo tracks from all the current members, as well as recordings from the upcoming Focus 11 album.
The current line-up of Focus features:
Thijs Van Leer- Hammond organ, flute, vocoder, vocals
Pierre Van der Linden- drums, bass drum, percussion
Menno Gootjes - guitars
Udo Pannekeet -bass
Pannekeet now takes over for longtime bassist Bobby Jacobs, who does appear on much of the band material here but has recently stepped down from Focus to pursue other projects. There are a wealth of styles and flavors to be found on this enjoyable set, with the unreleased band material probably the most of interest to fans but there's also a wealth of great solo tracks and the experimental/improvisational Swung stuff, which was all recorded at various soundchecks as a way for the guys to get loose before Van Leer would show up. Through it all, Gootjes proves to be a beast on guitar, whether he's laying down some delicate jazz licks or distorted rock firepower, and he shines on "Raga Reverence 1" and the gorgeous "Song for Eva". As a unit, the current line-up can rock pretty hard, as they do on "The Fifth Man", complete with heavy guitar riffs and Van Leer's snarling Hammond organ, as well as atmospheric blues rock, which you'll hear on "Five Fourth".
Toss in some stellar solo pieces on guitar, bass (Pannekeet is a hell of a player!), drums, and flute, as well as two pieces from the upcoming Focus 11 album, the best of which is the majestic "Winnie", and you have a fascinating sampling of recent rare Focus recordings that once again displays just how much of a musical force this longstanding outfit still is.
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
1. Nature Is Our Friend - Thijs Van Leer
2. Song for Eva - Focus
3. Riverdance - Pierre Van Der Linden
4. Victoria - Focus
5. Two-Part Intervention - Menno Gootjes
6. Mosh Blues - Focus
7. Raga Reverence 1 - Swung
8. The Fifth Man - Focus
9. Song for Yaminah - Udo Pannekeet
10. Claire Obscure - Focus
1. Let Us Wander? - Thijs Van Leer
2. Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango) - Focus
3. Spiritual Swung - Pierre Van Der Linden
4. Santa Teresa - Focus
5. Hazel - Menno Gootjes
6. Fine Without You - Focus
7. Raga Reverence 5 - Swung
8. Five Fourth - Focus
9. Anaya - Udo Pannekeet
10. Winnie - Focus
Added: January 15th 2018
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
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|Focus: The Focus Family Album
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2018-01-15 17:23:07
The Focus Family Album is a neat idea, part compilation, part introduction to the wider catalogue of the band's 'family' and part look into the future. Only every second track here is an actual Focus song, whereas all the odd numbers on both discs are taken up by the extracurricular works of the two most recent line-ups of this outfit. Interestingly the full-band tracks are all gathered from the Focus X album sessions or previous and current sessions for the forthcoming Focus 11; the opportunity to sample works in progress before they see the light of day in finished form a most unusual and welcome one. Hence "Song For Eva" is a lengthy piece intended for Focus X, but left aside so as not to affect the album's flow, its easy languid bluesy style possessing a very strong identity of its own. While "Victoria" is a vocal remix and edit of a track that did make the Focus X album but not in this guise.
Both "Mosh Blues" and "The Fifth Man" were ideas the band worked up in Mosh Studios in Sao Paulo, and originally intended for first Focus 11, then an EP that never came to fruition. The former sees Focus main man Thijs van Leer scatting quite superbly over a deep blues groove and Hammond swirl before bringing on the flute action, while the latter is the album's first real rocker. The final Focus track on disc one is "Clair-Obscur", the reference demo for Focus 11 taking its name from a technique in painting, film or photography where the contrast of light and dark is stronger than reality, the piano led piece conveying those elements with expert subtlety.
Moving on to disc two, "Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango)" is a track again from Focus X, but with guest vocalist Ivan Lins featuring on that already released version, here we get the full rich tones of van Leer. "Santa Teresa" however does have Lins on vocals, this track originally featuring as a Japanese bonus cut on Focus X, although its the singer Jo de Roeck who features on "Fine Without You", a vocal rework of "Mosh Blues" that comes off second best compared to the instrumental version on disc 1… "Five Fourth" is the first take of another piece from the Mosh sessions where the band sight-read from van Leer's manuscripts – leaving little doubt as to the talent on show – whereas "Winnie" closes the collection out, the second cut from the Focus 11 sessions an enigmatic shimmer of progressive beauty that suggests great things.
So what of the 'odd' numbers? Well here too each disc mirrors the other, track one on both a flute led piece from Van Leer recorded in nature (by that meaning you can genuinely hear the birds singing and the gentle splash of waves as he plays). Tracks three come from the other long standing Focuseer, Pierre van der Linden, "Riverdance" and "Spiritual Swung" both percussion only pieces recorded for his Drum Poetry album – both of which prove to be surprise highlights. Having been with the band since 2010 Menno Gootjes is up next, tracks five, "Two-Part Intervention" and "Hazel", beautiful solo acoustic guitar pieces recorded especially for this album. The band Swung then swing into place, "Raga Reverence 1" and "Raga Reverence 5" tracks by the three piece of Gootjes, van der Linden and ex-Focus bassist Bobby Jacobs, who used to jam out ideas while waiting for van Leer at soundcheck. Swung have released two albums and these improvised ideas give a good representation of what they're about. Leaving the newest member of Focus, bassist Udo Pannkeet, to use his custom built six string bass in pure solo mode on "Song For Yaminah" and "Anaya", the surprisingly melodic pair proving decidedly interesting asides.
In truth this two disc set can at times be a curious collection, the kind of stop-start method of its construction leaving it lacking in cohesion. The solo pieces feel far removed from each other and further removed from the band tracks, while even the actual Focus songs don't necessarily click together in terms of tone and style. In fairness that was maybe the point – as I'm sure it was to highlight the huge and wide ranging talent the recent incarnations of Focus possess. Ironically, even though it features members of Focus from start to finish, what this collection lacks, is indeed, focus. That said, long time followers will see this as an essential purchase, even if those looking for a compilation to sample what this underrated Dutch act are capable of should begin that quest elsewhere.
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