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60 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just music...., 31 May 2006
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
Focus music isn't just music! It is the air in my lungs, the love in my life, the joy in my heart.

I discovered Focus at the age of 13 and I have been listening to them ever since. Don't get me wrong, I listen to a huge amount of music, I have over 2000 CDs and 500 LPs but nothing, I repeat NOTHING before or since comes close to the music of this Dutch quartet.

'Focus 3', (along with 'Moving Waves', 'Live at the Rainbow' and 'Hamburger Concerto'), is the essence of this totally individual band.

The rhythm section here is perhaps the quintissential Focus pairing of Bert Ruiter on Bass and the incomparable Pierre van der Linden on drums, their playing is easily as melodic as that of Akkerman and van Leer and they fit together like Torville and Dean, Eggs and Bacon, Rolls and Royce....

The vituoso guitar playing of god Jan Akkerman is still to this day without peer. The beauty in the composition and playing of Organist/Flautist Thijs Van Leer is unsurpassed. The two together, on the same recording, is a sheer auditory joy. Van Leer holds the whole thing together with his superb arrangements and classical 'nous' whilst Akkerman disappears off into nirvana with intelligent, yet mind boggling guitar playing which speaks more than any vocalist. His rhythm playing is the best you will hear, his lead playing is better!

As I gaze back through the mists of time it is unfathomable that this band faded into darkness. At their height every single Polydor pressing plant in the World was churning out nothing but Focus vinyl, so great was the demand.

Then on a grey day in 1976, Akkerman left the band and music has never recovered.

No one since has grasped the ideals of pop, rock, classical, jazz, baroque, etc etc and created the sea of beauty and emotion that came from this unlikely european source.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dutch Total Football Becomes Dutch Total Music, 11 Feb 2011
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
It's about time I got around to reviewing this! 'Focus 3' is, for many fans, the album that best defines the Dutch band Focus. Along with 'Moving Waves' and (perhaps to a slightly lesser extent) 'Hamburger Concerto', it captures them at their most innovative and dynamic. Almost 40 years on, it still sounds genuinely progressive.

Recorded in the summer of 1972, its background is interesting***. Bands at the time (especially prog bands, a genre into which Focus fitted, albeit loosely) used to block-book months of studio time in which they could rehearse their intricate time signatures, grow their beards, overdub everything until they sounded like a 40-piece orchestra and generally go about the business of developing their tracks (for no self-respecting prog band recorded mere "songs") slowly and organically. Hell, they could spend days just getting the right vibe. In July 1972, however, Focus simply turned up, laid out their kit and tore the studio to shreds with some of the most astonishing virtuosity ever captured on vinyl. Taking just four days from start to finish, most of 'Focus 3' was recorded live in the studio; lots of it (including virtually all of Anonymous II) was improvised. These guys really were absolute masters at what they did and 'Focus 3' finds them at the top of their game.

As usual with Focus, 'Focus 3' synthesises a whole raft of musical ideas and influences - jazz, rock, classical, avante-gard, medieval - into a collection of pieces that are wholly original and refreshingly different. Opener 'Round Goes the Gossip...' begins with Pierre van der Linden's signature drum intro (as used on countless tv ads ever since) before building into a jazzy, impatient-sounding main section which is alleviated by a gossamer-light middle eight in which van Leer quotes from Homer's The Illiad (and why not?). Akkermans's dreamy, Debussy-esque 'Love, Remembered' is next, followed by the glorious 'Sylvia', an absolute masterpiece from van Leer and the hit single that broke them into the mainstream. 'Carnival Fugue' begins slowly (although I suppose there's a clue in the title) before progressing into a bright, summery, Hammond-driven wig out that perfectly captures the happy, playful side of their music.

If the first four tracks are outstanding it's the title track 'Focus 3' and 'Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!' where the band really begin to pick up the pace and put some distance between themselves and their contemporaries. Both tracks were improvised within an overall framework and this allows all four of them to cut loose and show what they can do. But this never becomes improvisation just for the sake of it; melody and structure are never sacrificed and their virtuosity never becomes mere showing off. The key to great improvisation is the old jazz adage of 'take and build' and they do this without once falling into the enormous elephant trap labeled 'Self Indulgence'.

This creativity reaches its apotheosis in 'Anonymous II', a 26 minute epic which sprawled over two sides of the original vinyl release. A magnum opus version of 'Anonymous' from their first album, 'Anonymous II' was recorded live and in one take. All four of them take a turn in the spotlight before returning to the opening theme to close the song. The way they pass the baton from one to the other without missing a beat is a wonder to behold and if you think that a drum solo, let alone a bass guitar solo, can never be a joy to listen to, then wrap your ears around this. These four knew each others' music inside out and the spontaneous whoops and cheers in the background demonstrate just how much fun they were having.

And how do you top that? With a spot of medieval lute music, of course! Akkerman's preoccupation with the English countryside, and in particular his love of Julian Bream, finds musical expression in 'Elspeth of Nottingham' which comes complete with birdsong to provide a lovely pastoral ending to the album.

As I suggested at the start, picking the definitive Focus album is a tricky business and although it's a close call, for my money it's probably 'Focus 3'. If Focus were best defined as the ultimate fusion band, then this is the ultimate fusion album. It contains everything that made Focus such a unique and inspirational musical force in the 1970s and which makes their music resonate so timelessly today. The individual talents on display are simply awesome: keyboardist and flautist Thijs van Leer was on an incredible roll as a composer, Jan Akkerman alternates between blistering fret-work and the lightest of touches, Bert Ruiter's bass is fluid and seamless and he and Pierre van der Linden combine to make one of the most intuitive rhythm sections in rock history.

Rather like the way the Dutch World Cup teams of the 1970s blew everyone away with their Total Football, Focus mix free-form expressionism and individual virtuosity into a joyous Total Music. For Cruyff, Neeskens, Rensenbrink and van der Kerkhoff, read Akkerman, van Leer, Ruiter and van der Linden. And, rather like Dutch football, music rarely got this good again.

***Ok, it's possibly only interesting if you're a 40-something bloke who remembers the glory days of 70s rock, but if you're reading this I assume that's you too!
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FOCUS 3, 24 Feb 2003
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
Musicians : Jan Akkerman (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lute), Thijs Van Leer (vocals, keyboards, flute, piccolo, recorder), Bert Ruiter (bass guitar), Pierre Van Der Linden (drums), Martin Dresden (bass guitar on House of the king), Hans Cleuver (drums on House of the king),
Focus 3 was recorded in 1972. In early 1973 it became a top ten album, and in Sylvia produced a top ten single. Focus were then at their peak of popularity, with their earlier album Moving Waves also being a top ten album, and Hocus Pocus taken from Moving Waves being a hit single. Each of the musicians were voted as top ten musicians in each of their categories. Jan Akkerman was voted world's best guitarist.
Focus 3 is an entirely instrumental album, apart from one track. All of the longer tracks have a very live feel to them because they were recorded without any overdubs.
Round goes the gossip is an odd vocal track to start an otherwise instrumental album with. The only words sung are "Round goes the gossip", apart from a slow middle section in which Thijs Van Leer sings part of Virgil's Aeneid in latin !
In stark contrast, the melodic Love remembered has a gentle flute lead with acoustic guitar backing.
The success of the single Sylvia at the time made Focus known all over the world. The memorable guitar led instrumental is a bit reminiscent of The Shadows at their best. This track will probably be appreciated by just about anyone.
Carnival Fugue is far more jazz than rock. Its slow piano intro in part Baroque, part Jazz style eventually becomes faster and ends with Thijs Van Leer playing a piccolo solo with the rest of Focus backing him.
The title track Focus 3 is in a similar style to other Focus tracks with Focus in the title. After the solemn organ intro, and gentle guitar lead, the pace gradually speeds up, until the track goes straight in to Answers Questions Questions Answers. Although Answers Questions Questions Answers lacks a distinct or memorable melody, parts of it contain some of the most sensitive guitar playing on the whole album.
Anonymous 2 was originally recorded as Anonymous on the first Focus album "In and out of Focus". However, Anonymous 2 is faster and musically far superior than the original, and at nearly thirty minutes is much longer. In live performances it served as a showpiece for their considerable musical abilities. After the initial guitar led melody of Anonymous 2, each of the musicians is given the opportunity to solo : Thijs Van Leer on flute, Bert Ruiter with a bass solo which is probably one of the longest on any recording, Jan Akkerman on guitar, and Pierre van Der Linden with a lengthy drum solo. They eventually return to the main melody of Anonymous 2. Given the amount of improvisation this is really jazz rather than rock music.
Although known for his abilities on electric guitar, Jan Akkerman had a considerable collection of lutes. He plays lute on Elspeth of Nottingham. He is backed by Thijs Van Leer on recorder. Elspeth of Nottingham is in the renaissance style of 16th century lutenist John Dowland, and is as good or better than anything that John Dowland wrote.
House of the King was the B side of the hit single Sylvia. It would have made a very good single itself, and in some countries was released as a single. The chords of the acoustic guitar intro leads in to a fast and memorable melody played on the flute, with the bridge played at remarkable speed by Jan Akkerman on electric guitar. House of the king is actually taken directly from Focus's first album "In and out of Focus". It was not even rerecorded for this album. Although they are not credited, Martin Dresden plays bass and Hans Cleuver plays drums. Around the same time, Jan Akkerman recorded a "fluteless" version for his solo album Tabernakel, on which he plays guitar lead throughout.
Focus split up after a few more albums. Jan Akkerman has had a very prolific and successful solo career since then. Thijs Van Leer eventually reformed Focus by joining what was going to be a Focus tribute band. They recorded Focus 8, although it does not contain any of the other previous members of Focus apart from him.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Form is temporary, class is permanent, 2 Mar 2007
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
I was loking through the track listings of the Focus albums, trying to decide which was the best - I have not heard some of the albums in decades, as I wore out the cassettes upon which I copied them from the local record library. recording albums from the local library was the only way to get some artists. Boney M or Abba were freely available, but try to get something by Focus and you were out of luck. by the time I discovered them, they were already a minority interest as musical culture had 'moved on' by the late 1970s. the public appreciation of musicianship had temporarily given way to punk-inspired iconoclasm and bands who could really play were mocked as 'dinosaurs' for a while.

I did not forget them though. A few years ago, I went looking for Focus albums in Amsterdam - "Focus? sorry, vee do not af dat" was the general response in record shops. It pained me that there was a whole generation who would not know who the tune "Sylvia" was by - they might vaguely recognise it, but little chance of spotting the flying Dutchmen who recorded it. Even worse, if they heard the name Focus, they were unable to hear more. Even in Holland. Focus had become only a DIY superstore.

All is mended now though. these CD re-issues offer hope that good things don't need to be lost.

I had the pleasure of meeting Thijs Van Leer a while ago - playing jazz with an astonishingly good quartet - he was still a character - anybody who can still yodel and use his voice as an instrument like he can at his advanced years AND be a master of all things flute-like - deserves serious respect. the guy is so good that when you get wrapped up in his aural gymnastics, you can forget to breathe. On careful reflection, "Focus 3" probably has some of the best examples of the Van Leer/Jan Ackerman interplay - guitar and flute in dynamic synergy and in subtlety too.

"Round goes the gossip" is typical quirky Focus, but it is "Sylvia", "Love Remembered" and "Elspeth of Nottingham" that stand out for me.

Some people find Focus "challenging" as they are not easily categorised - I think of them as a 'fusion' band rather than try to pigeon-hole them, but however you see them - they were a virtuoso band and this is a virtuoso album.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meaty stuff & custard, 14 Oct 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
Focus 3 was the group’s loosest album by far, with two long semi-improvised centrepieces and a clutch of shorter tunes including Big Hit Sylvia, one of pop’s great melodies, with that famously lovely guitar line and rich Hammond backdrop. Love Remembered is a succulent acoustic number, as sweet as a bath in warm custard. Carnival Fugue is a melancholy, piano-based van Leer tune that swings suddenly and unconvincingly into backslapping cheeriness. Focus 3 is one of van Leer’s best creations – as usual with his “Focus” titles a romantic theme for guitar and organ, it develops from moody introspection to relaxed delight with a beautiful melodic logic. Elspeth of Nottingham is Akkerman’s lightly ironic lute-homage to the English countryside. The meat of this disc however lies in the two long tracks: Anonymous 2 reworks the song of the same name from their first album and, based around a huge Hocus Pocus-type riff and trippy little medieval sort of dance tune, finally lets each band member stretch out and show their stuff, with, surprisingly, no dull interludes – even Pierre Van Der Linden’s drum solo manages to hold the attention. Van Leer’s choppy flute passage proves the instrument can rock, and Akkerman digs deep into his guitar skills with satisfying aggressiveness. But the disc’s highlight is the evocatively bluesy Questions? Answers! Answers? Questions! which takes off from a neat little bass figure into a long, serene meditative piece which includes a dreamy solo from Akkerman and one of van Leer’s most beautifully sustained flute excursions.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dutch Masterwork, 8 Jan 2006
c j summerville (York, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
When this album came out I was thirteen or fourteen years old. Me and my mate couldn't believe our ears. we went to out local guitar guru and said: 'What do you think of Focus?' He said: 'They're genuises.' We said: 'What do you think of "Focus III"?' He said: 'It's a masterpiece.' Now I'm forty-five years old and I still can't believe my ears. The album was recorded 'live' in the studio in two days (the time it took Bowie's drummer, in the studio next door, to lay down his track for the next Glamrock single). Focus never recorded anything better. Guitarist Akkerman was subsequently voted best axeman on earth. Halcyon days!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably their best, 21 Dec 2008
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
I always enjoyed their music in the 70's (whilst still at school), but because of their commercial successes I didnt buy their albums, preferring to indulge in darker areas of prog like Crimson & Van der Graaf and more unconventional like Gong, Hatfields, Groundhogs, Soft Machine etc that none of my mates were familiar with.

However, I did follow Jan Akkerman & have a collection of his subsequent vinyls & cd's, & still listen avidly to anything he plays.

As a result of listening to a feature by Stuart Maconie on 6 radio, featuring Hamburger Concerto, I decided to check out some of the older Focus music. Brilliant!

The musicianship throughout the group is top notch, & there is a great variety & actual humour in what they play. Classical, baroque (Akkerman is a fantastic Lute player), bit of folk & obviously rock.

This was a double album of the day (each vinyl side in those days was approx 35-40 minutes).

To me this is still an interesting and exciting album. Presumably because the tracks were so good, Akkerman still plays some of these, notably on his outstanding 10000 Clowns... album.

Focus were extremely popular in their day but sadly forgotten as a brilliant prog band.

Give this album a try, its a great starting point.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Focus Rock!, 29 July 2003
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
What a wonderful re-discovery. At the end of the seventies, I dumped a lot of my prog-rock vinyl in favour of shorter songs from angry young men. While my taste in music has always been diverse, there actually was a time when you really could not admit to liking King Crimson, Yes, Gabriel's Genesis, Gentle Giant, etc. And Dutch rockers who yodel? No way I would admit to ever liking that kind of stuff!
So thank you Radiohead (and others) for making it OK for old timers like me to rediscover the music that was carried under our arms to parties in the late sixties/early seventies.
Focus III is just about as eclectic as it gets, then. Jazz, classical, folk, choral, rock, pop - all in a melting pot, played by classically-trained musicians who are clearly enjoying their own abilities. OK - so it is overblown and self-indulgent in parts, but who cares? Its really all right now to like Focus. Its also OK to get out our air guitar, shake your hair and pretend to be Jan Akkerman - its almost OK to go prematurely bald get out your Hammond organ and flute and yodel like Thijs Van Leer.
So, what did I do with that Blodwyn Pig LP?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Teenage years revisited, 19 Feb 2011
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
Nearly 40 years ago me ,a young hippy at the time,and some hippy mates set off in some old banger to travel the 24 miles to the University of East Anglia music venue to see Focus. They did not show up. We repeated the journey a few weeks later and I believe on this occasion they did show up and treated us to an incredible experience which to this day stands out as one of the best live performances I have ever seen. As a consequence I went out and bought this album on vinyl (cd's had yet to be invented). I have recently bought the CD version and have played it maybe 30 or 40 times.
The album covers a whole range of emotions , if you like Focus you will love this album.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Focus, 11 Jun 2009
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
If you are only going to buy one Focus album this is the one.
From the virtuoso brilliance of Sylvia to the shimmering beauty of Focus 3 and Love Remembered this album is never less than superb, also best value as it was a double album and costs no more than many single albums.
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