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Progressive Rock CD Reviews


Focus 50 – Live In Rio, 3CD/1 Blu Ray Deluxe Edition

Review by Gary Hill

This new set is quite intriguing. We get three CDs and a Blu-Ray disc. The first two CDs and the Blu-Ray are the concert recording. The third CD features the 11 "Focus" songs the band had over the years all recorded by the new lineup of the band. It includes a brand new "Focus 12," as well. Focus' brand of fusion and prog merged together is always effective, and this set makes that clear. I'd have to say that the sound on the live recordings isn't as great as one would expect. At times the audience is too loud in comparison to the music. The concert film is great beyond that, and the performances (live and studio) are all top-notch. While this is not a perfect set, it is very strong and well worth having. (Note: The first two discs are listed as they are shown on the cover "Disc." I did the third one as "CD" because it's technically the fourth disc of the set, but the third CD.)

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Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Focus 1

Soaring flute music starts the show, really climbing ever higher and painting some great melodic textures. Keyboards and strange vocals rise up after that section ends. This works out to some cool melodic fusion as it continues its path forward. Around the halfway mark, the track moves to more of a mainstream melodic prog section for the entrance of the actual vocals. A guitar solo takes over from there, bringing a bit of a southern rock vibe with it as it does. I love the cool jam that takes control later. It features some killer flute playing and really rocks.

House of the King
The rocking sound and flute on this track, along with the Celtic stylings beg comparison to Jethro Tull. The piece works through a number of shifts and changes, though, and covers quite a bit of territory. This is a classy cut, but so is everything here, really.
This is an epic piece that runs over 21-and-a-half minutes. Mellow atmospheric sounds start it. Those hold it fir a while. Then an organ heralds a new section. The track eventually explodes into powerhouse prog jamming from there. That section eventually works through, giving way to another mellower exploration. After a blast back upward a bit, this works to a cool fusion groove that really has a great melodic texture and mid-tempo vibe to it. That gets powered up a bit more and some unusual vocals come over the top. This thing works through all kinds of twists and turns. Some sections are on fire, while others are mellower. Much of it is instrumental, but there are movements with non-lyrical vocals. Sometimes fusion drives it more. At other points it twists toward more pure progressive rock. There are some definite world elements in places. The whole thing is just so cool. I really love the section with the grooving bass line and scat vocals. There is a cool call and response part with the audience as some tasty jazz music holds it all down. There is some smoking hot jamming beyond that movement with a prominent drum presence. In fact, the drums take a full on solo during that section. After the drum solo a melodic section that makes me think just a little of Procol Harum rises up to take control. That portion evolves and takes the number to its end.
Organ starts things here. Clapping is added to the mix. As other instruments join, it takes on a real funky edge. Eventually this drives out to a powerful rocking mode that has a big focus on the guitar. There is a real classic rock feeling to it. This is quite a strong tune.
Song for Eva
Melodic fusion is on the agenda here. This is a solid piece with a lot of magic built into it. As this builds upward there is some intense guitar soloing built into it. This is a real growing number that gets so scorching hot before it's over.
All Hens on Deck
Fast paced and pretty crazed, this thing is on fire. It's a screaming hot fusion number that really stomps. There are dropped back moments, though, with more melodic prog concepts at play.
Disc 2
Le Tango

A cool psychedelic groove brings this in, and the cut works out from there with some tasty retro prog textures. I really dig the cool fusion styled jamming on this, but the audience seems a bit too far up in the mix at times. I love when the track explodes out into harder rocking, furious zones further down the road.

P's March
Martial music of an old world variety is part of the rocking mix that begins this track. It grows out from there into a killer prog jam after a time.
Focus 5
Melodic prog meets fusion on this classy number. This isn't all that dynamic, but it's very effective.
Harem Scarem
Powerhouse prog fusion jamming is all over this stomper. This is (in contrast to the previous one) quite dynamic. There is a crazed and pretty intense guitar solo. Then the tune bursts into some powerhouse psychedelic jamming. Some waves of echoey guitar take over after a time and hold the cut for a while. The guitar soloing that comes out of that is purely on fire. Then they launch into a heavy jam that has a real psychedelic rock edge to it. After that reaches a peak, it all drops away and more of those waves of guitar emerge to bring it up gradually. It eventually works out to a bass solo that is purely on fire. Eventually they power out from there into another cool fusion jam that really grooves.  That section takes the piece to its end.
Hocus Pocus
Here we get the group's monster hit. Flute starts it. That solo makes up more than three-and-a-half minutes of the cut. Organ and vocals take over after that. Eventually the cut shifts and the familiar yodel is heard. Then the climbing guitar part joins. From there they launch out into the song proper with intensity and style. If you know this song, you know the crazy magic which is in store. Words can't really capture the powerhouse jamming merged with yodeling and flute of the tune. This is a greatly extended version of the song that runs almost 21-minutes. It includes introductions of all the band members and an extensive drum solo. They eventually make their way back to the song proper from there to take it to the end.
Focus 3
I love the sense of magic and mystery built into this piece. The cut has a great balance between prog rock and fusion. It makes its way through a number of cool shifts and changes along this road.
Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!
Seeming to come out of the previous tune, this screams in with fast paced powerhouse jamming that is absolutely on fire. It's part progressive rock, part fusion and all cool. I really love the flute solo section later in the track. This goes through a number of cool shifts, changes and varied sections.
CD 3
Completely Focussed
Focus 1

Organ starts this cut. Guitar rises up to create the melodic fusion tones. This is a slow moving groove. It goes forward in a pretty straight line until around the two-thirds mark when it explodes into fast paced prog fury. That holds it for a short time, but deposits right back in the type of zone that preceded it.

Focus 2
This begins quite mellow and gradually climbs upward from there. It's a great melodic piece that has so much going for it. As sedate as it started, it really does get into some soaring zones. This makes great use of flute and guitar, but all the instruments shine. There are cool twists as it evolves.
Focus 3
As strong as everything about this tune is, the expressive guitar work really takes the cake on this. There is a classy mid-tempo vibe to the song and the whole sound is packed full of class, though. This is fusion at its best for sure.
Focus 4
Another melodic fusion groove, this piece has some great guitar and the piano manages to shine, too. The guitar soloing gets particularly strong and soaring on the number.
Focus 5
More mid-tempo fusion is on the menu here. I find that some of the bass work on this really stands out. The tune isn't a huge change, but it's also quite effective.
Focus 6
While not any kind of seismic shift, the flute lends an interesting flavor here. I like the gently climbing feeling to the song. This has a real positive vibe to me.
Focus 7
Organ is the first instrument at play here. Guitar joins along with other things to allow the tune to evolve. There are some particularly tasty guitar lines further down the road as the cut intensifies and shifts toward more electric zones. This turns to some hard rocking zones around the halfway mark as the guitar really explodes it all outward. This is quite a dynamic piece.
Focus 8
Percussion, almost like a heartbeat starts things here. The number works to another killer fusion jam. It's dramatic and powerful, but still melodic, too.
Focus 9
There is a classical music edge to this piece. It's based largely around piano, but the guitar does a great job of shadowing and augmenting it. This does grow and evolve. It's not all that similar to the rest of the stuff here, and does have some definite leanings toward more pure jazz, albeit of the more experimental school.
Focus 10
This jumps into more pure fusion immediately via the killer guitar. This is another particularly dynamic tune working through a number of different sections and musical zones.
Focus 11
I love the melodic nature of the guitar work on this. The piano does a great job of playing dance partner and counterpoint to it. This is another with more of a mainstream jazz concept. Yet, it still fits under fusion.
Focus 12
This very much feels classical as the guitar and piano work together to paint a picture. There are some powerful melodies here. The piano takes over later on this track for a time, handling it all in strictly solo fashion. Guitar returns before it's over, though.
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