Focus and Friends feat. Marvio Ciribelli - Focus 8.5/Beyond The Horizon

Year of Release: 2016
Label: In And Out Of Focus Records
Catalog Number: IF003CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:46:28

While it might be poor form to admit that I know very little about a band that has been around for as long as Focus has (their first album was released in 1970), I know very little. That they are from The Netherlands and are well-known in the progressive music world, I do know. Beyond that, there is the quirky "Hocus Pocus," which I hear on occasion on Classic Vinyl. Probably the track that everyone knows (if they know anything at all)... First time I heard it, I'll admit my thought was on the order of "what the...? Yodeling? What weirdness is this?" I didn't turn it off or anything. I wasn't appalled, just taken aback.

Reviewed for you today is Focus 8.5/Beyond The Horizon which is anything but quirky. Credited as Focus And Friends, the band's website notes "the album features all-star Brazilian musicians including Arthur Maia [on bass] and Mário Sève [on sax] joining Focus on new recordings, and vice versa, plus a drum duet with Marcio Bahia." Further, "The sessions for the album were all recorded in between South American tour commitments during 2005, and every track is a previously unreleased composition by the members of Focus or producer Marvio Ciribelli." Why does 8.5 come after X? They aren't bad at math, but Focus 8 was released in 2002... and as the notes say, these tracks were recorded in 2005, and that was before Focus 9, ergo...

On this excellent release, Focus play progressive classical jazz rock. There is a cinematic quality to the music - not just that the pieces sound (to me at least) like they could be incidental music to a 60s/70s-era movie (though the music doesn't sound dated) but that the arrangements themselves tell a story. The 7 pieces that make up this album are fresh and alive, vibrant with the colour of sound. It is bright, upbeat: "Hola, Como Estas?," for example, answers the question of the title by being one large party; you can imagine a plethora of dancers in vivid colours twirling and swirling about, happily, like a kaleidoscope. Other than the singing of the song title, vocals are joyous scat-like vocalizations. The drums (both Pierre Van Der Linden and Marcio Bahia) in "Millennium" are like a tap dance done by those fleet of foot. The opening track, "Focus 0," goes from something perky and plucky to, towards the end, something slinky and of a style of 70s instrumental movie music --I had a flash of fringy leather vests and sheepskin padding, long hair and huge afros (I think I just described Mod Squad). While hard to pin down exactly, there is an aggressive attack via piano that reminded me of Keith Emerson's approach on Tarkus (though this sounds nothing like Tarkus; it's jazzier than Emerson got with ELP). And yet, the trilling flute makes this piece light and airy.

The overall mood of this album is upbeat, happy. This is not a slap-dash production, despite the short timeframe during which is was composed and recorded. There are layers that reveal themselves each time you listen, which I think the best albums do. You'd think with all the instrumentation that it might feel claustrophobic, especially given the energy level, but you'd be wrong. There is plenty of space to move about.

Rock 5 has varying textures - it begins in a piano bar, our pianist (Marvio Ciribelli) noodling about before a songstress (Mylena Ciribelli) joins in, vocalizing musingly, a bit sultrily.* Within short order, drums, flute, trombone, and electric guitar join in for a joyous jam. After a short pause, it gets darker, deeper, although things are no less joyous. One thought I had during one play-through was: it would be a movie about the 40s with a 60s soundtrack.

Millennium is a showcase for drums, about which snicker in and out lively piano and guitar lines (impressive fretwork by Jan Dumée). Taut drums feature in a duet-solo between Van Der Linden and Bahia; it is dynamic without being showy; as I said above, it is a tap dance.

"Inalta" sounds as if it could be the opening credits music for lighthearted 60s romantic comedy (a well-paced and not silly romantic comedy, mind) -- trilling flute is prominent with an orchestral backing. Midway, we have left the 60s and have entered the 70s, a precursor to the dance rhythms of disco, without going quite there (hints toward a wah-wah pedal without actually appearing).

"Talking Rhythms" - the title refers both the drum tattoos that encompass the first 3:45 of the track, and the vocal rhythms repeating the same drum rhythm. Neither are easy rhythms to execute; there's nothing cheesy about the vocal section, the voices mix wonderfully, coming across warm -- I can't imagine it's easy vocalizing those parts without losing rhythm or stepping over each other. There's nothing dull about the drum parts, as there enough subtleties that it doesn't become dryly repetitive...

The album ends with the darker "Surrexit Christus," a track that is a showcase for bassist Bobby Jacobs and one that at times reminded me of a more leisurely "Have A Cigar," aside from the added element of flute. It is a track that starts very sparse but as it progresses, builds both in instrumentation and intensity. Jacobs' bass is loose and fat... no other way to say it... burping out a moody message.

All in all, it is an excellent release, from production to performance - or performance to production.

*briefly, I thought of the main title music to Star Trek in the vocalizations. It's just me, I know, thus a footnote.

Focus Zero (10:22) / Hola, Como Estas? (4:56) / Rock 5 (7:12) / Millenium (7:22) / Inalta (5:35) / Talking Rhythms (5:26) / Surrexit Christus (5:35)

Marcio Bahia - drums (2, 4, 6, 7), effects (5), voice (5, 6)
Sérgio Chiavazzoli - acoustic & electric guitars (1, 3, 5)
Marvio Ciribelli - keyboards (1), piano (3, 5, 7), Rhodes electric piano (4), Hammond (5), arrangements (3, 5), chorus vocals (2)
Mylena Ciribelli - vocals (2, 3, 5), effects (5)
Jan Dumée - guitar (2, 4)
Rogério Fernandes - bass (4, 5)
David Ganc - flute (7)
Bobby Jacobs - bass (2, 3, 7)
Amaro Júnior - drums (3, 5), percussion (3, 4)
Marcio Lott - voice (2)
Arthur Maia - bass (1)
Marcelo Martins - flute (3)
Thaís Motta - vocals (2, 3, 7)
Flávio Santos - percussion (3-5) Fabiano Segalote - trombone (3, 5), voice (5)
Mário Sève - flute (7), saxophone
Pierre Van Der Linden - drums (1, 4, 6, 7), bass drum (7), voice (6)
Thijs Van Leer - piano (1, 2), Hammond (2), flute (1, 5, 7), voice & whistling (2), arrangements (1, 2, 7)

In And Out Of Focus (1970)
Moving Waves (1971)
Focus III (1972/1991/2001)
Live At The Rainbow (1973)
Hamburger Concerto (1974)
Mother Focus (1975) Dutch Masters (1975)
Ship Of Memories (1977/2001)
Focus Con Proby (1978)
Electric Bird (1979)
House Of The King (1983)
Greatest Hits: Moving Waves (1984)
Focus: Jan Akkerman & Thijs Van Leer (1985)
Best Of Focus (1994)
Hocus Pocus: Best Of Focus (1994)
Pass Me Not (1995)
Focus 8 (2002)
Focus 9/New Skin (2006)
Focus X (2012)
Focus 8.5/Beyond The Horzon (2016)
Live In England (CD/DVD) (2016)
Live In Europe (2016)
The Focus Family Album (2017)
Focus 11 (2019)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin VA

Added: June 17th 2018
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 54214
Language: english


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