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5 stars Ladies and gentlemen...nothing here.. nothing there...nothing up my sleeve....hocus pocus: FOCUS !!! Yes its right, there´s a new Focus in town....and a brilliant one at that !! Grandfather Focus Thijs van Leer attended some event, where "Hocus pocus", pay´d hommage to the Dutch progmasters....after which he joined make sure that we all heard of this wonderful team. So here it is....and a wonderful thing it is!! Appropriately named Focus....i think they work wonders...but (ah..there is a but!!) guitarist Jan is no i miss his (Akkerman´s) fluid fills and runs...that said..i think Jan, fills his musical shoes especially in the slower songs/themes.Thijs are of course (as ever)wonderful on the keys...and his flute- playing are better than ever!! Oh...and YES there is Yod´ling on a few tracks (dunno why?)...nevermind that..this is a wonderful album....filled with dreamy we like them!! A special mention to tracks:"Tamara´s move" / " Fretless love" / "focus 8" and " Blizu tebe" (whatever- that means??) anyhow this is a rare we dont seem to encounter reviving of the old guys very much...any more !!! Well what did you an old geezer...i love this music!!!
Report this review (#22968)
Posted Thursday, November 27, 2003 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

I am usually very wary of those bands that reconvene some 20 years later and do a new album. This has given some horrendous results before, even (especially) with prog bands, partly because the new effort is usually half-hearted, but also because the musicians have become "grown-ups" and don't dare being as idealistic or radical than in their 20's. Truth is I did have worries about Focus' eighth album (I waited until I saw them in concert to buy it), but this was without counting the good old Dutch common sense: Thijs knows what made his band a success and was not about to take a chance with this second use of the group's name. If he was to extract every cent out of Focus, the music would have to be very much in the spirit of their first life. So he gathered a few gifted but unknown musicians and set on to record the new album in 03 and had it released on the Musea label with a basic artwork, photos of the Dutch countryside taken in an ancient car.

And indeed the new album sounds a lot like Focus' better albums (such as Moving Waves, 3 or Hamburger Concerto) and it rather hard to criticize that aspect: this is unmistakably a Focus album. But even if the young musicians accompanying Thijs are good/excellent, they are probably a bit shy of stepping in Akkerman's, Ruiter's or VanDerLinden's shoes and the show belongs to Thijs and him alone. To be truthful, I think that those young guys don't come up to the level of their older peers, because in concert the group does six or seven version of the Focus theme, carefully avoiding some absolutely essential other tracks like the Hamburger suite or an Anonymous theme. Sounds like a waste? Or maybe a way to save up/recycle at lesser costs? Or maybe because the level demanded is too high for the accompanying musicians?

Anyway, the album is a good focus album and would've easily fitted after HC or even the spare track compilation of Ship Of Memories. Yes, Thijs is equal to himself (even pulling some weird scatting we are used to), but he's alone, really. Jan Dumée does pull one or two solos like at the end of Hurkey Turkey (even the jokes are recycled in this country) and can actually temporarily make you forget Akkerman or Catherine, but the key word being temporarily. Bassist Jacob's performance is nothing to write home about, but it's not clear how much freedom he was allowed. One of the problems with this album is Smaak's drumming. Not that he's a bad drummer, but his modern "snarey" sound is simply not meeting up his predecessor's standards, and his playing is hardly exciting either. Little wonder Thijs would welcome back PVDL back into the group for the next tours and albums.

The other main issue is that Thijs' inspiration seems on the saving/recycle mode as well. Focus was never a band of over-abundant ideas and the recycling of classical composers' most famous piece was a common thing in The Netherlands (Ekseption, Trace, Solution, Finch.... and Focus), but here there are particularly few new ideas. Outside the usual Focus theme recycling, there are many borrowings, some of them even plundering their own older works.

"Lesser musicianship, recycling of old ideas, little inspiration and lack of energy" you've been reading!! So you're expecting a rather poor album, right? Well not really!! Thijs and Focus' name still operate some kind of magic. No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to part with this album (I usually get rid of average albums to avoid cluttering up my shelves) and I guess it means that even though I criticize it heavily, it might just be better than average, and if I keep it around, this means that it is at least a 3.5 stars album. Which isn't so bad for one of those comeback albums that group absent for two decades usually botch up. Nice try, Thijs!! Hopefully the next one...

Report this review (#22972)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This record is one of those records you put on, when you come home and want to relax. Though the opener (Rock & Rio) is a kind of good fun rocksong (though song is the wrong word, rockyoddel or something like that would do better), there is a overall relaxed, sometimes even romantic tone about this album.

The highlights in my eyes are "Rock & Rio", "Tamara's Move" with a Flamencofeeling, "Focus 8" just because of the melody, "Blizu Tebe" (which means "Close To You", according to Thijs van Leer) a beautiful ballad, and the funny "Flower Shower".

Report this review (#22976)
Posted Sunday, August 15, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars On Focus 8 Thijs van Leer yodels and plays the flute and Hammond as he always has done on previous releases of the band Focus, but contrary to what one might expect, this album is not just a lackluster repeat of past success formulas. Sure, the albums also knows a few weak moments (the song 'Fretless love' sounds like a variation on previous songs with 'Focus' in the title, and the song 'De ti o de mi' could have been done in 3 minutes instead of 6), but this is more than compensated by the energy and inspiration in the other songs. Guitarist Jan Dumee brings a fresh Brazilian breeze in the band, and it enhances the music and gives it a fresh appearance. Energetic and contemplative, fast and slow, aggressive and peaceful, seriousness and humor, you will find it all on this album. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in listening to good music that moves the spirit.
Report this review (#22977)
Posted Wednesday, March 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars 25 years without hearing from Focus except from some compilations and then here we are presented with Focus 8. Its absolutely wrong to say that the brand name Focus was "used" for comercial advantages. Focus 8 is not about revival of a Dinossaur for the sake of the money. Its about a mans passion for music, Thjiis van Leer has this passion. This album has Focus writen all over it. For historical reasons most of oldtime Focus compositions and harmonies was made by Thjiis van Leer. Yoddling, handclaps, flutes and lots of wonderful Hammond riffs fill this recording to the rim, and all oldtime Focus fans can easily reconcile with Focus. As for the line-up, Jan Dumeé replaces the other Jan (Akkerman) with grace and many die-hard fans did recognize the fact that Akkerman was dispensable. Dumeé dd a wonderful job on the guitars, carrying Focus to a new dimention giving Focus the magic that fans always loved; Hammond-Guitar tunes blending jazz and classic music with a Rock approach that characterize Progressive Music. Bobby Jacobs fills in with quite powerful bass lines as in "Rock And Rio"and sometimes delicate as on "De Ti O De Mi". Drumming is executed just as Pierre van der Linden did in old Focus. Bert Smaak is perfect in most of his lines, maybe a bit too "heavy" on the more powerful tunes. Rock and Rio is a hard rock version inspired probably on Hocus Pocus, Tamaras Move has Focus III and House Of The King elements, Fretless Love has downgeared Sylvia cords. Hurkey Turkey is fresh and mingles Rock and Jazz with wonderful guitar and Hammond tunes in perfect harmony. The Title Track mellows out a bit with smooth guitar on piano and bass layers. Sto Ces Raditi...has absolute brazilian rythms with flutes, accoustic guitars as intro, where the song evolves to a bossa nova where the band seems to have a cool time enjoying the tune. Neurotika is another hard prog tune with lots of energy again with Hocus Pocus inspiration. Brother is a blues inspired tune executed first at a mellow pace, but builds up to high energy performance, again with a superb Hammond undertone. Blizu Tebe is the follow up of Brother, mellow and relaxing with unbelivable guitar playing by Dumeé. Flower Shower is the last tune of Focus 8 and believe me, its hilarious ! a minuette which demostrates that Focus dont take themselves too seriously. Its a "must have album" by those who really love Progressive Rock and needs to get away from mainstream revivals of dinossaurs.
Report this review (#22978)
Posted Friday, April 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
2 stars This record was a typical "i want to make a typical Focus record by myself and hire some new up and coming musicians and i know its gonna sound very 80's and uninspiring". It got some ok songs and i like the fact that he still use Hammond and sing in that Jodle-y way. The guitar was not good, the drumming sounded very 1985-1992 and im not a fan of that when it comes to rock. I know Thjis van Leer is an absoulte extraordinary musician but this wasnt what i hoped for. It lacked the melodies and especially the PUNCH.
Report this review (#45574)
Posted Monday, September 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Warning! I'm not saying that this release is better than HC or MV; the music is undoubtely very good, but moreover, the fifth star is for the context: how many prog bands sound as fresh as Focus 8 in this new millenium?

Mr. Thys is back with too many ideas in his mind. Are there some dull track here? No, there aren't. Maybe this album is a bit less complex than all his predecessors, but songs like Blizu Tebe, De Ti O De Mi and Brother, touch me deeply everytime I hear them. Jan Dumee is very fine playing guitar solos. Every song on this CD has a special flavour and meaning. You'll never get boring with this album, because it has too many variations and beat changes, and the music never left the feeling.

And if you're an older Focus fan, this release has some moments, some passages of the first works. For example: the yodels on the opening track reminds me, of course, Hocus Pocus. "Fretless Love" is similar to Focus II in some passages of the starting melody, and "Brother" (this instrumental version is too much better than the awful version of Mr. Proby) ends like Eruption begins, with that typical guitar melody.

Highly recommended.

Report this review (#113529)
Posted Sunday, February 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars I find it really had to review Focus at the best of times so I am doing '8' and '9' at the same time!

Both albums are vey much Focus albums.Nothing strays too much from the core style they are famous for.Plenty of pretty guitar melodies and both are well produced.Thijs Van Leer's Hammond gets a good airing as well as various whistling and yodelling! Drumming wise '9' has the great Pierre Van Der Linden involved and he briings much more of the ''oomph'' factor.The drumming on '8' is just solid and uninspired.That said I think the compositions on '8' are just a bit better.Both albums clock in at 60-70 minutes so not much difference there either.

Overall there is isn't too much too dislike on either disc.Focus offer friendlywarm music to be enjoyed with a glass or two of your favourite tipple.

Report this review (#115417)
Posted Saturday, March 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars There is a funny story about how this band came into existence - Thjis van Leer heard a Focus cover band one night, and he decided to make them his backing band for his new musical adventure - and this how Focus of the new millenium was born, but unfortunately this same Focus didn't last very long. Van Leer's role here is one of an old rocker way past his prime trying to put together some pieces of nostalgia, but let's give him credit, because without him this project would have never existed, and he does bring in some of that vintage sounding flute and organ with him. With that said, van Leer is living too much in the past, and two of his tracks here feature yodeling a la "Hocus Pocus", which wasn't really a big part of what Focus was about. Furthermore, there is also an average rocker with the name "Hurkey Turkey", without doubting bringing to mind both "Harem Scarem" and the aformentioned hit. However also written by him, is the next installment to the Focus series, the title track. This piece is really magnificent, and up to par with the 70s work, while still original and not trying to completely replicate the magic from "Moving Pictures" and "Focus III". But let's not forget the music of van Leer's backing band! Jan Dumee has contributed three excellent tracks which sound much more vibrant than anything else on this album. In some ways they suggest affinity to classic Focus and yet they are completely different. These are the real gems of the album. Bobby Jacobs' sole contribution is "De ti o de mi" a slow and melodic number worthy of the Focus name. All in all this is an excellent album almost on par with their 70s albums, but Thjis van Leer's backing band is at least as responsible for the high quality as he is, IMO.
Report this review (#128036)
Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | Review Permalink

A twenty-four years break between their poor last studio album "Focus Con Proby" (and one reunion effort from Akkerman and van Leer in 1985). This is a hell of a break, isn't it ? So, what can we honestly expect ? At this time of their career, it is rather difficult to tell which direction has chosen. Will they revert to their great symphonic sound ? Will they prolonged their jazz adventure ?

When I'm listening to the first two songs, they remind me the good old days. "Rock & Rio" appears like a poor man's "Hocus", without its craziness and frenesy but it is a good attempt of cloning. "Tamara's Move" features very pleasant fluting and some very good guitar work. Actually, Jan (the other one) will be GREAT during the whole of this album. It is full of good rhythm as well. With these two songs, I already have heard more interesting stuff than on their whole "Con Proby" stuff.

The good surprise goes on with a very symphonic "Fretless Love". Great guitar and keyboards during the intro. Things get a bit worse while some jazzy mood takes up the lead; dull in the first stage, the song will evolve again to the beautiful sounds of the intro. A mixed track actually. Brilliant at times, and boring at others.

"Hurkey Turkey" will feature some weird "vocals". The rhythm here is fully Latin-rock. The heavy keys remind me of Gregg Rolie. Do I need to tell to whom the guitar sounds like ? Yes, my friends : Mr. Carlos Santana himself ! I could add the following number to the sweet side of Santanal. Almost normal with such a title, no ? "De Ti O de Mi" is a song a la "Samba Pa' Ti". A great guitar instrumental.

I can hardly believe what I hear. Almost five good tracks in a row ! What a pleasant surprise. Focus at his best. After such a long time. It was well worth the waiting.

Would they perpetrate their excellent tradition and deliver a great "Focus" theme song ? Well, yes and no. "Focus 8" is not as good as most of its predecessors (mostly I, II and III). Not bad but not memorable either. And Focus just goes on with the good (guitar) work with "Sto Ces...". While you have passed the wierd (but short) intro, the same great Santana-like guitar work is to be heard. Another good one.

Some more yodeling of course needed to be present on this album. Just to remind us a little more some of their early repertoire. "Neurotika" shares a crazy beat with a very quite one. You know like "Hocus..." as if the yodeling was not enough. Now, some of you might find that it is a bit too much, all these Carlos-like soli; but when the melodies are so nice and the music so well played, I just say : hats off !

At this time of my review, there is really no need to tell you how the next song sounds like, right ? Just beautiful as well. You could also compare this effort to "Rajaz" from Camel. Actually the only weak number is the closing number. The grotesque "Flower Shower".

I am really pleased to welcome this great come-back album. Why didn't they produce such works during the late mid-seventies ? Anyway, it is so nice to see them back on (good) business. Let's hope they'll keep on like that.

Four stars.

Report this review (#135797)
Posted Saturday, September 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars New album that maintains vintage style .

It's my natural tendency not to take a closer look of band(s) who were very successful in the 70's and then disappeared, all of sudden by virtue of one or two members of original line-up, made another effort in 2000 with new album. I thought, their come back is just merely for commercial reason and take a benefit from the fact that the music industry is now a bit booming by promoting the memorable releases. By no exception is this Focus 8 album. I could not imagine that I would be able to accept the fact on "musical degradation" of old band like Focus who was very successful with songs like "Focus 3", "Sylvia", "Hocus Pocus" (in fact this song was used by global television network as background of TV news), by releasing a new album. So, when I saw this CD at local CD store, I was not interested to get it and, even worse, no intention to search the review of this album on the net!

But then when this year I got a chance to listen this album due to courtesy of my long time prog friend, Hardiansyah Rizal, I'm happy with the fact that this album still maintain the style, the energy and, most importantly, the quality that the band produced in the 70s knowing that only one member of the legendary line-up remains: Thijs Van Leer. Regardless you know the band before or not, you can enjoy this album stand alone and make an imagination that this is the kind of music the band played in the 70s. The only difference is probably the recording quality that this album

What I mean here is that we can compare this with Focus 3, even from the opening track Rock & Rio (3:27) which directly reminds me to the band's 70s nuance. It's the way the band has delivered music so far and it's kicking! If you are not familiar with track by track of Focus legendary albums you might think that this is part of the old albums. Of course, if you can not differentiate vintage and modern recording. The composition is for me quite compact where the musical density quite sounds like complex for normal music buffs, especially on the intertwining roles of keyboard, guitar that overlay the dynamic and tight basslines. I am amazed with this song.

The next track "Tamara's Move (Allegro-Adagio-Allegro)" (5:17), brings the memory back to the 70s because this song is led by flute solo with some break using male vocal line. This kind of music is representing the sound of old Focus especially with the changing style / tempo in the middle, featuring stunning guitar solo. Yes, man, I am really happy enjoying this track and I can say: FOCUS IS BACK! "Fretless Love" (6:08) takes us to a musical break as the song starts mellow with ambient nuance using slow flute work backed with nice acoustic guitar and keyboard. The song moves in crescendo until at approximately minute 1:30 it really takes off into medium tempo music featuring a nice combination of flute, acoustic guitar and organ punches while drums and bass serve as rhythm section.

"Hurkey Turkey" (4:15) starts differently compared with other previous tracks because it uses soft guitar riffs followed music and then guitar provides excellent textures through a sound effect that you can hear clearly with a descent headphone moving from left to right channel. What follows is a short guitar solo, followed with organ and then overlaid by flute. Guitar then takes another solo to lead the song. "De To O de Mi" (6:30) is another excellent track which opens with tight bass lines in slow tempo with drums as beat keeper followed with thin organ line at background. The guitar (electric) then takes the music through its solo that serves as melody line. The song has some symphonic element in the middle of the track through the sounds of organ.

The album title track "Focus 8" (6:19) is another guitar-led instrumental with slow tempo where keyboard, bass and drum serve as rhythm section. Composition-wise this is a bit boring to my ears even though this is not a bad song at all. The music reminds me to the Path Metheny Group and it's probably too mellow for me, "Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota?" (5:26) starts with an ambient flute-work backed with acoustic guitar fills. The song moves in African style with male chanting at background and acoustic guitar serves as main rhythm section followed with electric guitar that takes the lead melody. The beauty of this song is the insertion of flute sounds in some passages.

"Neurotika" (3:47) brings the music into an "upbeat" tempo and this song shares similar vein with the band old-time hit "Hocus Pocus" in music as well as singing style. It's so interesting to have this song enjoyed after slow tracks. This is not as energetic as "Hocus Pocus" but it has excellent soul as its predecessor. The electric guitar, backed with organ sound, is really stunning especially when the vocal enters at the same time. "Brother" (5:39) brings the music into a dark mellow nuance in the vein of Focus 3 (the song) where it starts in ambient mood through a long sustain organ work. Drums takes the role in inviting the bass guitar and electric guitar to enter the music, maintaining the slow tempo. At approx 1:59 the music moves into higher tone which takes the involvement of flute into the music. It's nice. This is truly a guitar-led music with some insertion of organ and flute as some transition pieces. "Blizu Tébe" (6:38) seems like an extension of previous track where the electric guitar still take the role as melody-maker of the music. It's a nice composition. But, I think it would be much more powerful if the ending part comprises musical passages with faster tempo to conclude the track. This album has "Flower Shower" that serves as a Bonus Track. It's quite strange but fun music.

Overall, I admire Thijs Van Leer who still have the passion and energy to reform the band and making a new album that maintains the quality of old time's albums like Focus 3 or Hamburger Concerto. It's of course an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Highly recommended. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#168795)
Posted Saturday, April 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Crossover Prog Team
3 stars Yes, you read the name of the band correctly; this is indeed the Focus of "Hocus Pocus" fame. Apparently three guys decided to form a tribute band as a surprise for Thijs Van Leer and he enjoyed what he had heard so much that he decided to join them, and then said that they ought to be called Focus. The result is a new album that shows that even without the likes of Jan Akkerman they can still kick up a storm. It is a long time since I have heard any Focus and this album is the sort that makes the listener wants to go out and grab the back catalogue as soon as possible. It is the opener "Rock & Rio" that sets the stage as the band blast and funk along, with Thijs providing yodels over the top as only he can. It is fun, it grooves and has s life of its own and the band let rip when they can with guitarist Jan Dumée showing that he is quite a find.

It is a mostly instrumental album, with the band on fine form, definitely hearkening back to the good old days. It is of little surprise that Thijs has high regard for his band mates, saying that "they inspire me to explore new horizons and unknown tonalities" Whether they are rocking along or providing a more reflective air this is a very good album indeed. Just don't play the 'bonus cut' as that is banal and shouldn't have been included as it just grates

Originally appeared in Feedback #71, Dec 02

Report this review (#978653)
Posted Saturday, June 15, 2013 | Review Permalink

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