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Focus: Focus 11

For their eleventh studio album, Dutch legends Focus continue on with the more jazzy sounds that have permeated their more recent efforts, 11 also sporting some pretty nifty Roger Dean artwork and, you guessed it, eleven new songs. For a band whose history goes back to 1969, it might seem somewhat surprising that they've only now just released their eleventh studio album, but after a long period of inactivity in the '80s and '90s this is their seventh new release since 2002, which includes live albums and compilations. The current line-up of the band consists of:

Thijs van Leer - keyboards, flute, vocals
Pierre van der Linden - drums, percussion
Menno Gootjes - guitar, backing vocals
Udo Pannekeet - bass

Thijs van Leer and Pierre van der Linden are obviously members from the classic era of the band, but Gootjes has been around for a number of years, and Pannekeet is the newest recruit, joining around the time of their Focus 8.5 release. Though still technically a 'prog' band, Focus now employ a wealth of jazz-fusion sounds into their repertoire, which you can hear on the wonderfully quirky & complex "Mazzel", guitars, keys, and flute all intertwining with each other over some tricky rhythms. "Who's Calling" and "Heaven" are both harder rocking prog tracks, thick with Hammond organ, piano, flute, and crunchy guitar riffs, while "Theodora Na-Na-Na" takes a dreamy jazz approach, ripe with synths, steady percussion, and majestic piano. Vocals appear on the more pop based track "How Many Miles?", while "Winnie" is a lush, prog/jazz piece that is a great vehicle for Gootjes' yearning, Jeff Beck styled guitar solos and dreamy flute from van Leer. Complex, rumbling heavy fusion returns on "Palindrome" and "Mare Nostrum", Gootjes again flexing his guitar muscle amid furious drumming and symphonic keyboards. Focus offers a more straightforward rock instrumental with "Final Analysis", again highlighting guitar and keyboards, while closing title track "Focus 11" offers up majestic sounds of glorious prog-rock, with piano, flute, guitar, bass, and drums all working together splendidly to create sheer melodic magic.

Now 50 years into their career, the legends known as Focus are still creating sensational new music, which is pretty damn remarkable. This was a late 2018 release that I didn't get to in time, but what a better way to start out the new year with a standout from the prior year that knocks your socks off! Better late than never!

Track Listing
11. FOCUS 11

Added: October 9th 2019
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 1216
Language: english

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Focus: Focus 11
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2019-10-10 03:08:31
My Score:

When bands so easily come and go it is hard to believe that 2019 brought a new Focus album and the best part is the band didn’t mail it in, in fact, it’s like being in a time warp and returning to the early ‘70s. Original band member Thijs van Leer (piano, organ, vocals, flute, synths) is joined by Menno Gootjes (guitars), Pierre van der Linden (drums), another Focus long time veteran and newcomer Udo Pannekeet (bass).

This will be another album that will be among the top of my best of list at the end of the year. The compositions and performances are just so classy, these veteran musicians demonstrate the meaning of the word craftsmanship. The band is tight, the songs relatively concise and the melodies are all over the place. That isn’t to say this isn’t complex because that is not the case. It’s just the band is able to take some fairly complex arrangements and meld them with some great melodies. One of the catchiest songs is also the only one to feature lyrics. “How Many Miles?” could have been a single although the band still lay down some fantastic interplay between organ, piano, guitar and flute. Leer’s voice is also in fine form and I wouldn’t have had any problems with more lead vocals, if the band had decided to go that route. The first track “Who’s Calling?” sets an urgent pace and really gets the blood flowing showcasing the band’s tightness. With “Heaven” the lilting melody could have come from the 15th century but it would also work in an Amsterdam pub. Another absolutely infectious piece. The moody and atmospheric intro of “Winnie” shows the band’s more experimental side while “Mare Nostrum” is both thoughtfully mellow and frantically fast paced. Another classic slice of ‘70s influenced prog this band was known for.

The hard rocking progressive “Palindrome” is another stand out track highlighted by Linden’s aggressive drum work, biting guitar riffs and full bodied keyboards.

Whenever the old guard makes a great album it is always something special and that’s exactly what we have hear with this latest Focus disc. Highly recommended to fans of the band and progressive music across the board.

Focus: Focus 11
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2019-01-27 13:23:35
My Score:

Available at the tail end of last year to concert going Focus fans, the veteran Dutch outfit now release their latest album, 11, to a wider audience. Hot on the heels of the Focus Family collection, which compiled a mix of unreleased and in the works Focus tracks with pieces from solo ventures by each of the four current band members, Thijs van Leer (vocals/flute/keys), Pierre van der Linden (drums), Menno Gootjes (guitars) and Udo Pannekeet (bass), 11 is, thankfully, an all new studio effort. And as such should be seen as the follow up to 2012’s X album, what with Focus 8.5 having been recorded seven years before its 2016 release.

Some put this new found lease of life down the use of the band’s vintage music in recent advertising campaigns, but whatever the motivation it’s good to have Focus back in top gear and offering new music on what will hopefully continue to be a regular basis. Considering their vintage it would be easy to understand if the foursome were to take it easy but the opening gallop of “Who’s Calling?” immediately scotches those ideas by ripping and roaring into life. Admittedly, to this untrained ear, the relationship between Linden’s cymbal stick patterns and the soaring guitar line courtesy of Gootjes feels less that of blood brothers and more those of distant cousins, but the energy and vital vim is undeniable. With surging Hammond tones underpinning it all, even though it’s not to my personal taste at times, it’s difficult not to be impressed.

Obviously, 11 has eleven tracks and as we traverse through the jaunty almost medieval sounds of “Heaven”, where van Leer’s flute gets a first outing, or the dark jazz fusion of “Winnie”, the connection and bond between mood and execution is masterful. The album’s title track is a prime example of poise being played out, a patient but never ponderous meander always given a beautifully progressive pull. A direction in which “Theodora Na Na Na” heads further down while adding a thoroughly jazzy twist. A more rambling ELP feel is added to “How Many Miles”, which also features the only vocal in sight, and that same deep keyboard driven intensity is leant to “Mare Nostrum”, although it can be a little more difficult to truly engage.

Considering that their previous all new album was released some seven years ago, we could have been forgiven for believing that Focus were yet another band to turn their back on the studio. 11 says otherwise and does so with such confident a statement that it leaves us hoping that it won’t be their last.

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