Cherry Red 2016
Dance of fire and water for Netherland proggers and a new crop of Tropicalistas who break the boundaries of style.
It’s quite telling that the opening piece of this unique record is titled “Focus Zero”: with an eponymous composition present, and assigned a number, on each of the Dutch ensemble’s regular albums, there’s no best sign of a fresh start than rolling the years back to 0. Indeed, there’s a whiff of breeze to the music written in 2005 when the reformed FOCUS reached the shores of Brazil and, having peeled off their classics and the “8” material from a stage, were whisked to the studio for a jam with local artists of some renown. The ensuing melange of baroque and bossa nova, as conjured by Thijs van Leer and producer Marvio Ciribelli, is genuinely magical – devoid of artsy pretense but full of burning ambition one could hardly expect from the veterans.
Unpredictability takes the artists to a long-lost house of the king where an easygoing jazziness reigns thanks to van Leer’s crazy scherzos, once he’s gotten off a flute-and-piano pedestal to pursue a less-classical melodic mirage. Arthur Maia‘s bass may add a meandering undercurrent to the proceedings which stray into boogie and blues, yet it’s Pierre van der Linden and Marcio Bahia’s relaxed dialogue, percussive and vocal, on “Talking Rhythms” that’s the pinnacle of this groovy adventure, and it’s the triumphant voices on “Hola, Cómo Estás?” that dissolve the band’s European restraint in a carnival mood and let Thijs’ idiosyncratic singing bloom
“Rock 5” is a meeting point between two cultures, the Brazilians marching and swaying towards FOCUS who aren’t there, except for bassist Bobby Jacobs, while guitarist Jan Dumée comes to the fore for the festival fusion of “Millennium” and leads his Latin compadres through gilded splinters. Brass-heavy, almost orchestral, “Înaltă” could be a part of “Hamburger Concerto” if that piece was brought over to Copacabana, with van Leer’s reeds in a mellow mode, but the Yuletide solemnity of “Surrexit Christus” is elevated with Ciribelli’s ivories to a much calmer realm until hot fudge of funk reminds one of an imposing, yet so art deco, Christ the Redeemer statue – a static analog of the Dutch band’s journey around the world. They’re still open for experiments, and this album is a testament to the veterans’ vitality.