Focus - Focus III

Year of Release: 1972
Label: Sire
Catalog Number: 3901
Format: CD
Total Time: 69:32:00

This release is, in my opinion, the high point Focus' recording career. It contains one of the band's most beloved numbers, "Sylvia," some of Focus's best tracks, "Round Goes The Gossip," "Carnival Fugue," "Focus III," and the powerhouse, "Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!" This album also showcases what is Focus' most beautiful track "Love Remembered." This is undoubtedly one of the most essential releases of the golden age of progressive rock, and it shows Focus at the height of their creative powers. While it is beyond question that Focus was, and still is, a progressive band, this release shows a more jazz influenced group. Anyone listening to Pierre Van Der Linden's drumming of Thijs Van Leer's B-3 or flute work can instantly see the influences of some of the great American musicians such as Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and Jimmy Smith. Equally evident are the continental influences of French pop and jazz music, which can be heard in Jan Akkerman's almost accordion influenced lines on some of these great cuts. This release is a rich stew of some of the most interesting and well thought out music ever produced by Focus, and in the interests of full disclosure, one track "Anonymous II", that could have used some editing.

The highlights of this release are many, and most of songs have a bright and cheerful presence, in contrast to the often somber and academic tones of their previous album Moving Waves. The album begins with one of my favorites, "Round Goes The Gossip." It gives us quick jazz progressions and accordion like melodic lines from Akkerman and solid B-3 from Thijs. A gentle interlude has Thijs's always unique and thought provoking vocals, the thought usually being, for me anyway, what the heck is the language this time? This time, I think it's Latin, but who knows?

The next track, "Love Remembered" is one of the most lovely and captivating numbers that Focus has ever recorded. This track is the work of Jan Akkerman, and his acoustic guitar playing on this cut is always capable of tugging at the heartstrings. Add to that Van Leer's gorgeous flute lines and a sound that evokes the image of a peaceful Polynesian atoll. This song has a very romantic tone, and I defy you to hear this and not be reminded of Rogers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" or the best work of Martin Denny.

The third cut is the classic "Sylvia." This tune was one of Focus' few "hit" recordings, reaching the #4 spot on the British charts, but strangely only managed to reach #89 in the USA. It is certainly much more representative of Focus' sound than their one other hit single, "Hocus Pocus." "Sylvia" is a very classy guitar led instrumental, and one of those rare numbers where every note of the guitar melody is instantly memorable and hummable. Track four is another favourite, "Carnival Fugue." This is a jazz piece with a pensive intro that leads to some ripping jams with impressive work from Jan on guitar and Thijs on the piccolo and B-3. What could be more entertaining than listening to some of Europe's finest players swapping riffs?

"Focus III" follows, and is one of the great moments of this album. It is a gentle, yet very powerful number, with Jan's trade mark violin-like volume swells, and some quite memorable melody. The problem is, for the last thirty years I've been trying to remember just where I heard some of this melody. One bit is definitely from the chorus of Mary Hopkins 1960s single "Those Were The Days," but there is a bit lifted from another tune that I just can't quite recall. Nevertheless, this is a great song that may bring to mind Santana's "Europa," which this cut predates, just to keep things straight.

Track six is the magnificent "Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!" It is one of the finest cuts ever put on tape. It shows Focus' mastery of melodic jazz/rock fusion. Every second, every note played by all four band members, each solo, each change of tempo and texture is an absolute wonder to listen to. Akkerman shows off some very impressive lead and rhythm guitar work, as well as some of the earliest examples of sweep picking I have yet to run across. Sorry, but this technique is not the invention of any of the 1980s guitar wunderkind. To digress a bit, if you can, please watch the video clip of Focus performing "Hocus Pocus" from The Midnight Special, a TV show from 1973, and you will see close ups of Akkerman clearly demonstrating sweep picking licks in full up and down strokes, leaving no doubt that as early as 72/73, the technique had already been mastered.

On to "Anonymous II" now. I have some problem with the length of this one. At over twenty six minutes, it is a bit heavy on the solos. It includes lengthy bass and drum solos, which in and of themselves are no problem. Akkerman's guitar solo is a textbook of his quirky, unmatchable style. It is an undeniable testament to his skills, which were decades ahead of anybody else. He throws just about everything he knows into this solo, and it will give any guitarist loads of work just to figure out a small portion of it. Thijs Van Leer's organ work is as strong as anything he has ever done, and it features a classic chord progression that Thijs was obviously fond of, because he uses it on more than one Focus album. The only real impediment to my enjoying this one is the fact that I have to lock the door and take the phone off the hook to get through it

This release ends with two shorter tracks that give us two more faces of Focus. "Elspeth Of Nottingham" shows Jan Akkerman's interest in Medieval music. Performed on what sounds like a lute (which is not credited on my original double LP) and flute or more likely, the recorder (also not credited), it is a beautiful and faithful example of the music of the late Medieval period.

The LP ends with "House Of The King," which first appeared on the European LP release of In And Out Of Focus. This is a somewhat Tull-like tune led by Van Leer's engaging flute lines, and features another short but brilliant guitar solo from Akkerman that ends with the longest and most perfectly controlled descending pick scrape I have ever heard. His virtuosity, and attention to even the most minor details of his playing are astonishing.

Now, about the varying length and track listings of this release. There are a number of CD re-releases of this, more than I am willing to detail. But to sum it up, some have "House Of The King," some do not, and the order of the tracks varies from one release to another. I know of two LP versions of this work, and at least three different CD releases. My track listings and times are from the 1972 (Sire (3901)) US version of the LP.

Finally, I just want to recommend this release to anyone who enjoys instrumental progressive rock or jazz/rock fusion. This is a wonderful release, and one that should be considered a classic of either genre.

Among the reissues: Capitol, 1991 (13061) and Red Bullet 2001 (66189)

Round Goes The Gossip (5:16) / Love Remembered (2:49) / Sylvia (3:32) / Carnival Fugue (6:02) / Focus III (6:07) / Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (14:03) / Anonymous II-Part One (19:28) Anonymous II-Conclusion (7:30) / Elspeth Of Nottingham (3:15) / House Of The King (2:23)

Thijs Van Leer - vocals, organ, piano, alto flute, piccolo, harpsichord
Jan Akkerman - electric, acoustic guitars
Bert Ruiter - gass guitar
Pierre Van Der Linden - drums

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)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin NL

Added: April 18th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 1228
Language: english


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