Thursday, July 14, 2016

Focus - 1974 - Hamburger Concerto

Hamburger Concerto

01. Delitae Musicae (1:13)
02. Harem Scarem (5:52)
03. La Cathedrale De Strasbourg (4:59)
04. Birth (7:46)
05. Hamburger Concerto (20:19)
 i) Starter
 ii) Rare
 iii) Medium I
 iv) Medium II
 v) Well Done
 vi) One For The Road

Bonus track on CD releases:
06. Early Birth (2:54)

- Thijs van Leer / vocals, organ, piano & electric piano, flute & alto-flute, ARP synthesiser, harpsichord, recorder, Mellotron, vibes, accordion, organ (St. Mary the Virgin - Barnes), handclaps & whistling
- Jan Akkerman / guitars, lute, timpani, handclaps
- Bert Ruiter / bass, autoharp, triangles, Chinese finger cymbals, swiss bells
- Colin Allen / drums, congas, tambourine, castanets, cabasa, woodblock, Chinese gong, timpani, flexatone, cuíca

 Focus has always been a band with sense of humor, not only for the strange sounds and yodeling emitted by Thijs Van Leer but also for the jokes they made of sacred cows.
For example Hamburger Concerto is a play of words with Brandenburg Concerto by Johan Sebastian Bach (Not easy to find a bigger or more sacred cow anywhere), they work with the obvious Baroque influence in a delightful way just to make a Concert to.."the hamburger", something that only few and brave genius as Thijs Van Leer would ever dare to do.

But that's not the only reference as we'll see later. The problem is that many people still see Focus as a comedy band or just buffoons, because sometimes their weird sense of humor so intelligent and subtle (Not in the name of the album because it's obvious) that most people don't get it, but nothing more far from reality, this humor enhances a rare and unique exquisite sound, very well crafted and linking several influences with such a skill and beauty that seems hard to believe.

Lets start with Delitae Musicae, a rare inflection that resembles Latin or Medieval Italian (Not sure which one though or if it means delicate music or delicate whisper whisper-), in a reference to Claudio Monteverdi's: Madrigals, Book 1 delitae musicae, a name that describes perfectly this short introduction to Focus world in any of both senses because it's delicate music and at the same time a delicate whisper.

Delitae Musicae, is reminiscent of the late Mediaeval/early Renaissance using harps and some instruments from the 1500's or 1600's (Lute and harpsichord if I'm not wrong even when the first one is not credited) delicate and wonderful, as a travel in time.

Harem Scarem is a name that has tortured me for decades, can't find a right translation or what they meant, of course the extreme shouts and yodeling by Thijs give an idea of fear (Scare or maybe scream), a very Rock oriented track, frantic and breathtaking from start to end.

La Cathédral De Strasbourg as Thijs said in the DVD Masters from the Vault, is dedicated to the magnificent Gothic construction and the vivid image left in him for life, the track starts soft, dark, in other words Gothic and majestic at the same time, if you haven't seen a picture of the building or better been there, you can't really understand how perfect is the musical description, but then after a soft (and unusual) lyrics and whistle section the song turns towards a more jazzy sound, incredibly beautiful track, one of my favorites.

Birth is a unique song, the brilliant harpsichord introduction by Thijs is simply delightful, but a surprising drumming by Collin Allen (Who replaced Pierre Van Der Linden) changes the atmosphere of the song returning us to the classical Focus sound even when a bit stronger and more Hard Rock oriented than ever before, another outstanding piece of art that reminds me at some points of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull.

It's now time for the feast, the central piece of the work, the self titled epic Hamburger Concerto, I almost fell to the floor in laughter when I read the name of the parts of this epic (Starter, Rare, Medium I, Medium II, Well Done and One for the Road) simply hilarious to blend Johan Sebastian Bach with Burgers King or Mc' Donald's.

But the music is no joke, simply wonderful 20:19 minutes of pure Progressive Rock, incredible mixtures of styles and genres that go from pure Baroque to the Dutch version of Flamenco (The Flanders region or nation went from Spain to France The Netherlands and part of Belgium, what explains the electric Flamenco style of Jan Akkerman and the use of such instruments as castanets or even hand clapping) with incredible Religious Choral sections and explosions of pure power, so well developed that I won't even dare to attempt to describe, because words are too cheap for the beauty and complexity of this epic, even Mr. Van Leer's usual vocal jokes contribute in this case to make the atmosphere perfect and to enhance the beauty of the music.

Just believe me, those who haven't heard this song will never imagine what Focus means and I can only describe this song in one word: PERFECT.

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