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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - 'Focus 8.5 / Beyond the Horizon'
Artist - Focus

For those not in the know, Focus is a Dutch progressive rock band formed in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1969 by Thijs van Leer. The band have undergone numerous formations in its history. Since 2011 it has comprised van Leer on vocals, keyboards, and flute, Pierre van der Linden on drums, Bobby Jacobs on bass, and Menno Gootjes on guitar.

Formed of members of the pit band for the Dutch production of the rock musical Hair, Focus gained popularity following the success of Focus II (1971) which contained the hit single "Hocus Pocus". Their success continued with Focus 3 (1972) and Hamburger Concerto (1974). Following their break up in 1978, Focus reunited in 1985, 1990, and 1999 before reforming in 2002.

They continue to tour and release albums today, which is why we are talking about them for out now on In and Out of Focus Records (catchy, me thinks) comes their brand new album, the quite brilliant, and highly-addictive Focus 8.5 / Beyond the Horizon.

After the last reunion of Focus and the release of the Focus 8 album, the Dutch band toured the world and was introduced to new musical styles and influences. Hence, 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.

The album also features all-star Brazilian musicians including Arthur Maia and Mario Seve joining Focus on new recordings, and vice versa, plus a drum duet with Marcio Bahia; as musicianship once again goes Beyond the Horizon. Oh, and for the record, the actual line-up on this brand new opus of an album features Thijs Van Leer (keyboards, flute, vocals), Pierre Van Der Linden (drums), Bobby Jacobs (bass), and Jan Dumée (guitar).

1. Focus Zero
2. Hola, Cómo Estás?
3. Rock 5
4. Millennium
5. Inalta
6. Talking Rhythms
7. Conversation of Drums
8. Conversation of Drummers
9. Surrexit Christus

In truth, I was a bit hesitant about listening to this CD at first, as I was afraid the music wouldn't measure up to some of the excellent music put out by Focus back in the 70's. I am, however, very happy to say that I needn't have worried (and nor should you). Focus 8.5 is right up there with any of the best material put out by the original group. Lest you think that Thijs Van Leer was only tagging along for the ride, you should know that he had a hand in all 7 of the new compositions contained on the new album.

With a lot of 70's prog music, you expect it to sound dated when returning to listen to it today. That can ruin the experience, at least in my opinion. Except for a few examples (some use of flutes for instance) you don't get that with Focus 8.5. I mean sure, the back drop soundscapes are there, as they well should be, but throughout their compositions and arrangements their group perspective never falters.

Although there are lengthy solos in this piece, they are incorporated into the final seven piece arrangement perfectly and so do not seem gratuitous. Some incredible guitar work creates an infinite number of moods and textures with both the acoustic guitar and clean, undistorted tones, while the Hammond organ and flute work of Thijs van Leer is something to behold.

The sound of their previous album, Focus 8 leant a bit more into a jazz progressive vein then classical prog rock. All instrumental with blazing guitar, beautiful at times, shredding at other times. But here on Focus 8.5 / Beyond the Horizon we are presented with more organ chords, complete with rather jazzy syncopation's, all bolstered by a driving drumbeat. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

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