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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 4 April 2017
I just love Akkerman's guitarplaying.
Had it on vinyl and tape long ago - repurchase.
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on 11 February 2011
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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on 14 October 2002
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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on 8 January 2006
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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on 14 August 2017
This album has improved in my estimation over the years, and I now realise it is a masterwork by four extraordinary musicians at the top of their game.

I bought its predecessor, 'Moving Waves', as a teenager back in 1973, because it had 'Hocus Pocus' on it, and that was the track everyone had to have after their barnstorming performance on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test'. I picked up the LP version of 'Focus 3' several years later in a remaindered out when Focus were no longer hot, and I gave little attention to much of it besides Bert Ruiter's bass solo on what was then side 4. When CD technology came out in 1983, 'Focus 3' was not high on my list of re-purchase intentions. Nor was it high on the label's reissue intentions, and I believe we had to wait almost a further 10 years before you could get 'Focus 3' on CD.

One of the great aspects of CD technology is that the 65 or so minute capacity you get on one side means that, if you're lazy, you end up hearing those tracks you never bothered about before. The particular track in that category for me is 'Answers? Questions!..', which I hadn't realised until about 2008 that it is a masterpiece. This track on its own produces ample evidence for Jan Akkerman being voted Best Guitarist in the 1973 Melody Maker poll. How did I miss it back in the Seventies? Well, the track starts with a superficially dull riff, and it occupied all (or almost all) of one side of the original LP. Therefore I never played that side.

The two long pieces are now, for me, the highlights of this masterwork. 'Moving Waves' may be tighter, but the band is still feeling their way, and the long piece on the second side of the album is just trying too hard to ape ELP for my liking. Akkerman loosens up to a perfect state for 'Focus 3', and by the time its successor comes along, 'Hamburger Concerto', the drugs have taken their toll, and Akkerman seems to have lost interest in the band. ('Cathedrale', to my mind, is the only indispensable track on that album, and you can get that on the compilation albums.)

'Focus 3' is, I suspect, one of the principal forgotten gems from the 1970s. Many who bought the album at the time would have only listened to 'Sylvia', the single, and probably given up with the rest of it, because they didn't realise that what they had bought was part-progressive, part-jazz/rock, when all they wanted was a catchy pop band.

These days my tastes are eclectic, and it took me a long time to realise that I had heard the fanfare on a CD of medieval music somewhere before. By the time I realised it was from Focus's 'Anonymous Two', I had got rid of the medieval music CD (as well as many others) and could not remember the track name. It is only with the release this year of the Focus box set that I have found out it is called 'Dit Le Bourguignon', several versions of which can be heard on YouTube. So another of those nagging insignificant little questions that I have been nurturing for years is finally solved.
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on 21 December 2008
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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on 2 March 2007
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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on 31 May 2006
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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on 2 September 2009
Well I think so anyway - opinions will obviously vary a great deal. From being spellbound when hearing them on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" I have never stopped listening to Focus. This line up was their best and there's such a wonderful "live" feel about the album.
Perhaps a little too eclectic for some, but for me it was an introduction to a number of different styles.
I've purchased this album on vinyl, cassette twice and now CD - I wore the first three out.
Wait till the family go out, pour yourself a glass of your favourite poison, turn the lights down really low and luxuriate in every luscious note (apart I suppose from the tedious drum solo anyway!).
Four wonderful musicians interacting with each other superbly on the longer improvisational pieces. The shorter set pieces are in turn wonderfully lively and beautiful.
Such variety on one album!
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on 29 July 2003
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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