Focus — Focus 9 / New Skin
(Red Bullet RB 66.253, 2006, CD)
by Paul Hightower, Published 2008-01-01
After an initial stab at a return to action with 2002's Focus 8, Thijs van Leer is back with an almost totally new lineup that's sounding better than ever. That is, if your tastes for this Dutch outfit favor the classic early 70s sound of albums like Moving Waves or 3. Also returning to the fold is original drummer Pierre van der Linden, along with newcomer guitarist Niels van der Steenhoven (bassist Bobby Jacobs is still on board). Nobody can ever replace the great Jan Akkerman, though I find van der Steenhoven to be an excellent pick for the job. He easily moves from biting rock, Beck-like melodic leads, Metheney-esque jazz, plus elegant or folky acoustic work. Of course the other half of Focus' signature sound is Thijs van Leer who sounds like he just stepped out of the 1973 time machine. His Hammond playing has that great 70s warmth and his flute work easily encompasses classical elegance and Tull's folk-rock cheer. Nods to Focus of yesterday abound on this disk, including "Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee" that recalls "Hocus Pocus" complete with cartoon-y vocalizations plus the not subtly titled "Sylvia's Stepson — Ubatuba." Standout tracks include the gorgeous opener "Black Beauty," the laid-back jazz rock ballad "Just Like Eddy," featuring an excellent vocal from Jo De Roeck, and the multi-faceted and extravagant "European Rap(sody)," that clocks in at over 10 minutes. I can't really find anything negative to say about this album. Let's hope it's the start of many more to come.
Moonjune to Distribute Tony Levin's Back Catalog – It has been announced that Moonjune will now handle distribution for Tony Levin's catalog of releases. These great albums will now be a bit easier to get hold of, so check out the site and see what you're missing. The veteran of King Crimson and Stick Men worked with a host of great players on these albums, and we've reviewed most of them over the course of the years. » Read more
Bandcamp Shines Light on Niches We Like – Bandcamp has developed into one of the best places to discover new music, and even a lot of old music is showing up there. In addition, their staff has been producing periodic articles spotlighting some interesting stylistic areas. On 20 September, they published one called "The New Face of Prog Rock" which bears checking out. » Read more
Holger Czukay RIP – Holger Czukay, a musical experimentalist without boundaries who has been involved with expanding the sound palette of rock music since the late 60s, has died at the age of 79. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 60s, he became fascinated with the possibilities of rock music, and was a co-founder of the pioneering group Can. He leaves behind an impressive body of work both as musician and producer. » Read more
John Abercrombie RIP – Another of the greats of jazz guitar has left us. John Abercrombie plied his way through a beautiful series of albums on the ECM label as well as bringing his talent to bear on albums by many of jazz's greatest artists. From his early work in the group Dreams to Gateway and outstanding work with Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, and many more to his own trios and quartets, he brought a unique instrumental voice to the world. » Read more