Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Focus: “Focus 11” (2019) CD Review

Since I first listened to Focus’ 2017 release, The Focus Family Album, I’ve been looking forward to the band’s new release, Focus 11. That’s because that double album, which was an odd compilation of sorts, included a little tease of what was to come, with each of the two discs concluding with a track from Focus 11. Both tracks – “Clair-Obscur” and “Winnie” – were intriguing and got me excited for this new release. Now that I’m getting to enjoy the full disc, I find that basically the entire album is engaging. All of the tracks here are originals, most of them written by Thijs van Leer. Most tracks are instrumentals.

The album opens with “Who’s Calling?” which begins like a hard rocking song with that steady guitar. But what sticks out for me about this track is Pierre van der Linden’s impressive work on drums. It’s a decent track, but for me, the following tune, “Heaven,” is when things begin to get really good. This is a playful and delightful tune, with different sections, beginning with a kind of funky rhythm which I dig, and some great touches on keys. Then approximately a minute in, it takes on something of the joy and merriment of an old-time festival, and completely raises my spirits. I love this. The tune then builds from there, and there is more excellent work on percussion. Toward the end, there is suddenly some playful vocal work as well. This track just gets better and better as it develops and moves through its different sections. Heaven, indeed!

“How Many Miles?” is a good, solid, driving rock song, with some great stuff on flute rising above that rhythm. This is the only track on the album to include lyrics, and it turns out to be a love song of sorts. Check out these lines: “Let me reflect your energy/That moves my soul to ecstasy/Let me become your melody.” Toward the end, some of the lines are delivered basically as spoken word, and that turns out to be really effective. “How Many Miles?” is followed by “Mazzel.” I really dig the unusual rhythm here, which moves this jazzy tune in interesting directions. This is one that might get you dancing, but it is going to be a delightfully odd dance.

“Winnie” is one of the tracks that I first heard on The Focus Family Album. It has darker, unsettling feel at first, then rises out of that haunted land to a prettier realm when the flute takes over. The flute has a gentle, comforting sound. But we’re not out of the woods yet, as they say, as we still have to find our way through the maze. But at the end, that electric guitar escapes, and takes us all with it. Then “Palindrome” begins with some cool work on drums. This one is really driven by the drums, and includes a drum solo, which of course helps to make it one of my favorite tracks. That’s followed by “Clair-Obscur,” the other track that was included on The Focus Family Album. This one has an unusual mood, feeling introspective at moments, then reaching out and upward. It is quite pretty at times.

The only track not written by Thijs van Leer is “Mare Nostrum,” which was composed by bass player Udo Pannekeet, the newest member of the band. This one begins slowly, then partway through it changes gears and takes on a wonderfully frantic feel, and features some excellent playing. The album concludes with its title track, “Focus 11,” which also happens to be the eleventh track. This is another of my favorites. It has something of a sweet vibe at the start, and picks up at moments, feeling joyful. It is a kind of warm tune to leave us all in a good place.

CD Track List
  1. Who’s Calling?
  2. Heaven
  3. Theodora na na na
  4. How Many Miles?
  5. Mazzel
  6. Winnie
  7. Palindrome
  8. Clair-Obscur
  9. Mare Nostrum
  10. Final Analysis
  11. Focus 11 
Focus 11 is scheduled to be released on CD and vinyl on February 8, 2019 on In And Out Of Focus Records.

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