...an all-business Focus album with less humor and a leaner, jazzier sound. Still, it's the Focus we know and love...

Focus 11
In And Out of Focus Records
11 tracks / 52:44

Those Dutch Masters keep soldiering on – this time with Focus 11, a fiery, jazzy, no-holds-barred entry into their catalog of finely-crafted pop/rock/jazz/baroque albums. Thijs van Leer is still at the helm, providing organ, piano, flute, and his unique vocals, with Pierre van der Linden – who goes all the way back to the Hocus Pocus days – on drums. These classic Focus band members are aided and abetted by the strong talents of Menno Gootjes on guitar and Udo Pannekeet on bass. Produced by van Leer, Pannekeet, and Geert Scheijgrond, the project has more of an edge than the typical Focus album, with plenty of up-front guitar and drums – van der Linden fans will be in ecstasy! Thijs’ piano work is also more noticeable in the mix and seems to get a more equitable role in terms of the organ/piano balance. 

The first track had me thinking, ‘don’t hurt yourself, Pierre,’ as race-horse tempo of “Who’s Calling” has the drummer playing at a furious pace, racing all the way to the end. The steady pace of the underlying bass and the searing melody played by the guitar give Focus 11 an explosive start.  The playful, complex, rustic, funky “Heaven” (an unusual name for a song with such a complex setting) brings together all of the aspects we expect in a Focus song – melodic flute, strong percussion, staccato organ phrases, tasty guitar lines, a signature vocal run, and – at about 2:37 -  even a snippet of “Sylvia.” Things slow down with “Theodora na na na,” which has an interesting descending melody. This jazzy track (Focus-style Bebop?) has piano and guitar stating the melody with some intricate bass flavoring from below and, once again, very prominent drum work from van der Linden. 

As with most Focus albums, there’s a song with vocals – this time beginning with the lyrics being sung and ending with some spoken-word poetry which is either about God or jazz… This all takes place over a flute-driven moderate-tempo rocker which starts off with - you guessed it – an elaborate drum-fill. 

“Mazzel” follows – Modern jazz meeting Focus-pop in a frenetic but melodic mix of drums, guitar, piano, jabs of organ, strong, punctuated bass and elaborate runs of tandem guitar and organ riffs. Sounding to these ears like a track that would have fit well on the Ship of Memories album, “Winnie” is slow, measured and atmospheric, with lots of string-bending in the guitar lines and a lovely, clear flute ringing out half-way through. 

A drum salvo starts off “Palindrome” along with twin riffs from bass and guitar. This track is a drummer’s delight, full of amazing work from van der Linden. A stately flute-lead theme is introduced just before the mid-point of the piece and then it’s back to some delicious solo work from the drums and more tasty guitar/bass lines propelled ahead by brief organ jabs. 

The etude-like “Clair-Obscur” settles things down considerably. Pannekeet’s bass is quite beautiful and lyrical on this track, the kind of song that only Focus can create – delicate, classically influenced, yet tastefully rock-driven at the same time. Pannekeet’s composition, “Mare Nostrum,” is next (all of the rest are written by Thijs van Leer) and it starts out as a slowly-stated melody (lots of volume swells from Gootjes’ guitar) and evolves into a faster paced rock/jazz piece featuring some fiery guitar passages and (yes) furious drum-work. 

The album’s penultimate piece starts out hard and heavy, with a solid, moderately-paced rock tempo and features several breaks of some beautifully rendered piano phrases. The inevitable “Focus 11” closes the project with an entry into the continuing series of “Focus” title-songs that starts with a slowly-stated melody on guitar with some sophisticated melodic statements going on in the bass line. The tempo and time signatures shift into sprightly piano phrases under a lilting flute-led melody before shifting back to the slower main theme.    

This is more of an all-business Focus album with less humor (there’s no “Aya Yuppie Hippie Yee” here) and more of an inclination toward a leaner, jazzier sound. Still, it’s Focus, which means fine playing, interesting writing, and an identifiable sound that’s purely their own. Can Focus 12 be far off? Let’s hope not. This particular line-up is the perfect blend of classic Focus and some strong new blood in the younger Gootjes and Pannekeet, who are a good fit.
Come on “12”! 

-Bert Saraco

4 tocks