Focus
Hamburger Concerto


4.5
superb

Review

by ProgJect USER (31 Reviews)
February 7th, 2011 | 99 replies | 9,542 views


Release Date: 1974 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A concerto has never tasted this good.

4 of 4 thought this review was well written

Focus is Holland's proudest progressive export, founded in 1970 by the classically trained keyboardist/flutist/vocalist/composer Thijs van Leer and the melodic and distinctive virtuoso guitarist Jan Akkerman. The other mainstay of the band was drummer Pierre van der Linden, while bassists came and went with nearly every new album. Both previous albums Moving Waves and Focus III were steeped in the extensive bluesy jazz rock-driven jam style, containing long riveting tracks loaded with blistering fretwork and towering interplay with flute and organ, all filled to the brim of neo-classical motifs. Their major fault was that the long instrumental jams could have been shortened, while some short tracks could have been extended. On the other hand, Hamburger Concerto is really more polished and more structured composition-wise. There are clear themes highlighted all throughout the tracks, and the instrumental arrangements are top-notch.

Their music is almost fully instrumental since van Leer’s vocals are not used for singing but for adding whistling, yodelling, laments and extra sounds, which add lots of charm and character. Focus’ second effort Moving Waves turned out to be the first in a trilogy of classic albums (continued with Focus III and Hamburger Concerto). It helped to establish the definitive band's signature sound, brought them international acclaim, and a hit of both side of the Atlantic, called Hocus Pocus. It's one of the most successful and well-known progressive rock songs of all time. The track was based in a driving hard rock riff that was frequently relieved by an infectious, wacky yodelling sequence by van Leer. While quite untypical of Focus’ music, it was to serve them well in their live shows.

Focus' overall representative sound is split halfway between the infusion of classical sensibilities and van Leer’s signature keyboards and flute straining out through the music, combined with some languid, uplifting sections of jazzy guitar or flat-out electric, pyrotechnic blues-rock stomps, which can be described as Zappa meets Santana. Akkerman also feels at home when it comes to subdue, and perform classical guitar licks on his medieval lute to explore the pastoral and medieval pieces. Jumping cleverly from classical interludes to jazzy roars, the band took the best of both worlds to create an exquisite, melodic and unique type of symphonic prog rock that to some extent sounds like a crossover between Camel (their soft, ethereal, melodic side) and Caravan (jazz-rock side) with a sprinkling of Jethro Tull. There are said to be similarities with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but van Leer wasn’t a heavy Moog user and his Hammond organ playing was more subtle and jazzy, somewhat like Camel’s Peter Bardens. As much as they were part of progressive rock’s origins, Focus can been seen as influential forerunners of jazz-fusion, as well as many other big 70’s proggers.

Hamburger Concerto is the crowning achievement of Focus' career. The main appeal here is the record’s consistency, where every new track adds something new to the overall style without tramping the same ground twice. Focus was reinforcing their progressive essence and preparing to rock a bit further than they had done so far; You can tell by the rough sound production for the lead guitar and Hammond organ inputs that Focus was willing to sound tighter. Another very noticeable aspect is the use of heavily overdubbed keyboards; Along with the almost ever-present Hammond, van Leer put a lot of effort at integrating the mellotron and the Moog synthesizer in many of the most grandiose passages of the album, creating a genuine orchestral atmosphere for the overall sound.

The album begins with Delitae Musicae, a short Renaissance-flavoured intro, which instantly sets the classical mood of the album. Harem Scarem is a strong reminder of the old combination of rocking energy and light humour that had worked so well in Hocus Pocus. The song is of particular note because of its jubilant nature. The enchanting atmospheric La Cathedrale de Strasbourg brings an ethereal exercise on sweet melancholy, originating from a few gentle piano chords and haunting church organ that build the subtle main motif. Baroque Bach-like harpsichord introduces Birth. Van Leer is stating the theme on organ and flute as well as providing haunting interludes in between Jan’s emotive guitar work. Hamburger Concerto is an innovative piece in six movements with flashes of classical and symphonic prog. Each movement was named after the different stages of making a hamburger. The tuneful title track remains one of Focus' most accomplished pieces in terms of construction. It’s more than just another obligatory lengthy instrumental. It’s an elegant concerto, full of beautiful motifs, linked fluidly by tight arrangements. The song continues the classical mood set in Delitae Musicae. It never becomes overbearing, and gives each member of the band room to show their talents, closing off a superb album in superb fashion. To all real progressive fans, Focus is essential.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
ProgJect
February 7th 2011



37 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

ProgJect: keeping prog in the right place.

Nagrarok
February 7th 2011



8169 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

As sputnik's resident Dutchman I am proud to co-promote some Focus, Holland had a great love for the progressive music of the Brits overseas in the 70's, and we made the style our own with many new groups, Focus being our biggest international achievement as far as progressive goes.

Classic video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4ouPGGLI6Q

Tyrael
February 7th 2011



20738 Comments


As sputnik's resident Belgian I will kindly redirect you to our national pride dEUS for prog.

Nagrarok
February 7th 2011



8169 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Wut, I didn't know you were Belgian Tyrael, nice to see some more European neighbours around here. Are you from the Flemish or French part?

Also I have heard of dEUS.

Jethro42
February 7th 2011



12377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

As sputnik's resident Canadian-francophone, I'm proud to have Nagrarok as collaborator to ensure the continuity of our dear ProgJect. Thanks to your habitual magic touch on the review, mate. I knew I did it a tad overlong, and I really like the way you fixed it. Cheers!
@Tyraelxy; I'll check dEus out and will let you know what I think.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 7th 2011



7143 Comments


As Sputnik's token Malaysian, I will gladly pos this review in support of the thorough historical analysis that ProgJect constantly provides.

In fact, I think it may be ProgJect's greatest piece yet. Well done, Jethroquarantedeux and Nag.

Tyrael
February 7th 2011



20738 Comments


@ Nag The Flemish part, I'm one of the few flemish people who don't desperately want to be independant. Lol.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 7th 2011



7143 Comments


I see you aren't banned Tyraelxy.

Jethro42
February 7th 2011



12377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Irving! I was actually more meticulous on this one, given that Focus are, as Nagrarok, Dutch. btw I urge you guys to take a look at that hilarious video linked by Nag above. He never misses an opportunity to 'plug' it, and it's easy to see why.

Metalstyles
Staff Reviewer
February 7th 2011



8318 Comments


Since I don't think I've said this before, what you guys are doing is awesome. Seriously, even though ProgJect flies way under the radar, I commend your effort. Great job Nag and Jethro.

Tyrael
February 7th 2011



20738 Comments


I see you aren't banned Tyraelxy.

Indeed! Now I can continue my field research... (aka getting my sorceress up to Act V in Hell mode.)

Jethro42
February 7th 2011



12377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

@Metalstyles; Much appreciated, thanks! We'd actually like to receive more visitors of course, but I like to think that we still have our faithful readers. They only should bring some friends with them.
;^D


Nagrarok
February 7th 2011



8169 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

btw I urge you guys to take a look at that hilarious video linked by Nag above. He never misses an opportunity to 'plug' it, and it's easy to see why.


Thank you, and YES. If you haven't seen the vid you're really missing someting. Completely obliterates the original studio version on Moving Waves too. Obviously they were on something.

The Flemish part


Nice! Originally I am from a town only a couple of km's away from the Flemish border. I love how multi-national sputnik is, I think that has only increased in recent years.

Since I don't think I've said this before, what you guys are doing is awesome. Seriously, even though ProgJect flies way under the radar, I commend your effort. Great job Nag and Jethro.


It's very much appreciated Magnus, our loyal commenters keep the Progressive Project running full-steam.



vanderb0b
February 7th 2011



3473 Comments


Haven't read a ProgJect review in a while, so it's a real pleasure to see this. As always, quality write-up. I watched that video, and it's awesome, I'll get this asap.

greg84
Staff Reviewer
February 7th 2011



7315 Comments


Here's some weird, crazy-ass music!

Great review as always!

Digging: Dog Fashion Disco - Sweet Nothings

Jethro42
February 7th 2011



12377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks! Here's the t/t live exclusively for you guys. What have you heard of Focus, Greg?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ma-OhbZuRW0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hms9jwba_V4
Drummer Pierre van der Linden is sorely missed, yeah.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
February 8th 2011



5919 Comments


excellent and thorough review, have a pos from one of Sputnik's Hellenic residents :P.

Digging: Essence Beyond - Carnivalism

Jethro42
February 8th 2011



12377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Mucho appreciado, Voivod, and thanks to jump in the SputnExotic wagon! And to you Americans, please note you are also welcome!

greg84
Staff Reviewer
February 8th 2011



7315 Comments


Ah. I've only heard some tracks that are available on youtube. They seem crazy in a positive sense.

Jethro42
February 8th 2011



12377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah they pretty much have many sound changes. Kinda Jekyll & Hyde rollercoaster, really. But they never lose the focus =P



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