Focus 12

Focus 12

Focus 12

Focus is back with two original members, new signature songs, and a fresh, energetic vibe….

Focus 12

Artist: Focus

Label: Spirit of Unicorn 

10 tracks / 39:35    

With a career spanning some 54 years, the ‘Dutch Masters’ known as Focus are back with a brand-new studio album called (predictably) Focus 12 and are sounding remarkably resilient and energetic. With two veterans of the original band - the irrepressible Thijs van Leer (flute, organ, piano and synth) and Pierre van der Linden (drums) - anchoring the ensemble, the original classic Focus sound is very much intact. The quartet is rounded out by the youthful energy of Menno Gootjes (guitar, piano, and synth) and Udo Pannekeet (bass, synths and programming). Gootjes and Pannekeet also produced the album and contributed two tracks of their own. This would mark the first ‘self-produced’ project for the band as well as the first to include a live-in-studio improvised track (without the benefit of a detailed credits-list my ears tell me that would be the four and a-half minute “Meta Indefinita,” which loosely translated could mean ‘indefinite goal’).

A worthy addition to the numerically-named ‘Focus’ anthems is “Focus 13,” which starts with a drum pattern leading into a stately melody on guitar and organ. The dreamy quality gives way to a tempo change half way through as the song picks up speed and some heavy rock vibes spiced up with sweet organ riffing and Gootjes laying down some speedy Akkerman-like guitar lines. The following track, “Bela,” calms the mood down with some beautiful free form piano. The full band joins in, staying in a mellow but gutsy mode.

The loose and atmospheric “Meta Indefinita” is next with a very impromptu vibe, followed by the percussive “All Aboard,” with flute and bass leading the way and morphing into a heavy rock pattern into the fade.

The melancholy “Born to Be You” features mostly piano and acts almost as a gentle interlude, clocking in at just under two minutes. The classically-influenced “Nura” starts as a hymn-like composition featuring beautiful ‘churchy’ organ before it goes briefly into a rock mode, then back to the main them  e, and back yet again to rock. This is really signature Focus material and maybe fades a bit too early for me.

The unexpectedly jazzy “Bowie” features piano only, stating the theme and climbing some ascending chords but ending with some beautiful descending runs, dipping into a minor key but resolving pleasantly in a major chord. “Positano” picks up the minor key mood – a slow melodic piano and guitar passage leads into a flute phrase and the introduction of the full band driven by a strong bassline into a lively end-section.

The album closes with “Gaia,” which is so stylistically Focus that it could have fit on any of the band’s early albums. The song starts slowly, with a beautiful melodic motif featuring van Leer’s organ work and hauntingly beautiful flute, growing into a subtle performance by the whole band and picking up the pace as it becomes a more whimsical, rhythmic piece.

Focus 12 is a true Focus album and not some kind of reunion project. The songs are well-composed (most falling somewhere between three and five minutes – none longer) and feature the signature prog/jazz/rock/classical vibe that defines the band. Still composing and performing at 75, Thijs van Leer is the heart of Focus and makes a fine showing here. Pierre van der Linden, three years older than van Leer, still creates a blanket of intricate percussion on drums, while Panneekeet lays down strong, melodic bass and Gootjes takes his place in the pantheon of great Focus guitarists producing dazzling and emotionally strong guitar work. Long-time fans of this band will be very happy with Focus 12, the only things missing this time around being vocals (not even yodels or whistling, for that matter) and the usual ‘comedy’ song – although I’ll let that pass because of the title “Fjord Focus” – I mean, really….

- Bert Saraco

4 1/2 tocks

You can see concert photography by Bert Saraco at this link: