Focus: Eruption

Focus was a progressive rock band that had a huge hit called "Hocus Pocus" in 1972. (That tune is included on this album, but a live performance of it on the band's next album was the actual hit.) "Hocus Pocus" was sort of a '70s version of what Spike Jones was doing in the '40s and '50s with nonsense vocalizing, whistles and just generally showing off in a humorous way. But even though the song was pop music all the way, its superior musicality suggested these guys might be more than met the ear. And in fact they were. For the most part, the band's music was a mix of rock and classical music. However, "Eruption," and several other pieces spread out over their next few albums, showed the band could also integrate jazz elements into their music. For that reason, I think Focus deserves to be mentioned when discussing the fusion movement, even if they came through a side door and were little noticed in the genre at the time.

"Eruption" is a multipart opus. In 16 distinct but connected sections, the band lays out the facts. Van Leer and Akkerman are high-caliber musicians. Their forays offer the most interest. Akkerman, in particular, represents the fusion face of the band as he grinds out one biting electric solo after another. He squeezes every last ounce of angst out of his instrument. Van Leer is the utility player. He plays everything in every way. The often changing tenor of the piece makes it impossible to describe "Eruption" fully. But though improvisation is probably at a premium, the tune can stand alongside any fusion anthem produced by Mahavishnu, Return to Forever or Weather Report. This isn't to say the tune could knock any of those groups off their pedestals. But certainly it could give them a strong nudge.

September 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Stochelo Rosenberg: All The Things You Are

It doesn't matter how many times you may have heard or played this tune. Sinti phenomenon Stochelo Rosenberg has done the near-impossible, breathing new life into one of the most overworked numbers in the American Songbook, ironically with timeworn tools borrowed from the genres of classical, fusion and Gypsy jazz.

Right out of the gate, you know this isn't a standard version of Jerome Kern's popular warhorse. Following a unison intro worthy of Return to Forever, a Baroque-like extrapolation of the familiar theme sets up Stochelo's high-energy, staccato solo work. While staying within a disciplined framework of 16th notes, he muscles through some of the most challenging changes in the jazz repertoire with fire and intensity. Then, just when you thought there was nothing left to say, Mozes parts the Fret Sea and lets his fingers go. Swinging just enough to lull the senses into complacency, he quickly builds to a level of volatility equal to Stochelo's pyrotechnics.

I believe it was Robin Nolan who said, "We'll never catch up to the Gypsy guitarists." This track is a prime example of why this may be a truism. It's all the things we can only hope to be, and then some.

August 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Eric Vloeimans: Chorizo

This unusual Dutch trio offers a very lyrical vision of chamber jazz and, on this track, shows an uninhibited joy of playing. The rhythm, installed by the guitar, conjures up happiness right from the start. The trumpet launches the beautiful melody with a full, brassy tone, then the piano intertwines its contrapuntal lines with discreet playfulness. This may just seem "nice," but the trumpet solo that follows without breaking this atmosphere shows that Vloeimans is really a first-class player, and that the fun he and his partners are having is definitely serious fun.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments


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