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Thread: FEATURED ALBUM: Focus - Hamburger Concerto

  1. #1
    Moderator Poisoned Youth's Avatar
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    FEATURED ALBUM: Focus - Hamburger Concerto

    Their last great 70s work or the beginning of the end? Hamburger Concerto is now 45 years old. How does it stack up in their catalog all these years later?



    Review from ProgArchives
    Dutch Progressive rockers, Focus produced their masterpiece in 1974 with the brilliant classical-rock album, "Hamburger Concerto". The band largely abandons the long and boring jazz driven jams they had indulged themselves with on previous albums, and made a surprisingly focused and elegant album, which has dated very little in 30 years, compared with others from its period. This is due mainly to the diverse and gorgeous instrumentation of master guitarist Jan Akkerman and Flutist (no we aren't called Flautists) and Keyboardist Thijs Van Leer. On this album, one can hear all the classic rock instruments, as well as beautiful Harps, Harpsichords, Bells, and Castanets, etc.

    The album begins with "Delitae Musicae", a short and Renaissance flavored intro, which instantly sets the classical mood of the album. This segues into the rocker, "Harem Scarem", which was the album's obvious 'single'. It is a rock piece which features insane 'Yea Yea Yeas' from vocalist Van Leer, and frantic and impressive guitar and piano. This six minute piece manages to change mood relatively quickly and often though, shifting from the jazzy open, to the beautiful acoustic midsection with Van Leer's ever-present Flute. (Of All things one even hears an accordion on this very good track!) The frenzied energy of "Harem Scarem" changes instantly into the beautiful piece, "La Cathedrale de Strasbourg", a song complete with stately church organ and bells, and very calm vocals. This song evokes the grandeur and majesty of the Cathedral in Strasbourg quite well, and is a relaxing album highlight, which even features Van Leer whistling (no, not yodeling) at the end.

    "Birth" is my all-time favorite Focus track. This seven minute song is pure beauty. It features shifting solos between the talented Akkerman and Van Leer on Piano, Organ, and Flute. Unlike many prog- rock instrumentals, this one isn't about technical pyrotechnics; it is extremely tasteful and manages to highlight the extreme skills of each member while maintaining musical credibility. (The flute on this track truly is amazing, as is Akkerman's monstrous Guitar solo at the end.) That just about wraps up Side One. Side Two features the two minute suite, the "Hamburger Concerto". This song remains one of Focus' most accomplished pieces in terms of construction. This song continues the classical mood set in "Delitae Musicae." While their previous extended works were largely jazz and blues jams, here we find a classically inspired and structured suite, which has a sense of purpose. It never becomes overbearing, and gives each member of the band room to show his talents. (The piece is actually based on a Haydn piece which they then extend and make their own, un-credited).

    The album closes with a reprise of "Birth", called "Early Birth" a fitting end, one can never get enough of Akkerman's tasteful yet electrifying guitar. Overall, this truly is a masterpiece, an album that flows beautifully, and maintains a relaxing mood while not becoming dull at all. Focus's best by far. Sadly, their work would take a nosedive after this ad Akkerman and Van Leer's relations would sour. - 5 Stars. - NetsNJfan


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  2. #2
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    I love it !
    One of their best albums!

  3. #3
    Moderator Duncan Glenday's Avatar
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    Desert-island disc for me.

    The 21 (or so?) minute title track is a masterpiece, IMO.

    I loved it 45 years ago, and still do.

    I originally picked it up in a bargain bin just because I liked the title and the cover LOL,
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  4. #4
    I bought this one because of all the keyboards listed on the back...
    "Always ready with the ray of sunshine"

  5. #5
    I'm not a huge Focus fan, but I have Moving Waves, Focus 3 and Hamburger Concerto (plus now Focus 11), and I've grown to like all of them. Gave Hamburger a fresh spin tonight. Nice album. It has a focus that to me a lot of Focus stuff lacks. I don't love all the vocal sections, but overall this is a solid listen and it dazzles enough to keep my interest fairly high.

    So, high marks from me. I've dabbled in stuff after this, but never bit. To me, the beginning of the end was after this album, though I think they've had something of a renaissance of late.

    Going to spin all their stuff over the next few days to see how I'd rate them relatively. Not my favorite band, but when they're good, they are very good indeed.

    Bill

  6. #6
    Member Camelogue's Avatar
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    Had it on vinyl which I got rid of years ago.

    Will take another listen soon to see if it is worth picking up.

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    Perhaps the best, most consistent album they made, IMHO. 'La Cathedral De Strasbourg' is maybe my favourite Focus track.

    Can't really comment on much of what followed beyond what's on that best of CD, I heard Mother Focus a long time back but it didn't grab me.

  8. #8
    My favorite Focus album. I agree with JJ88, this one has a consistency that the others lack. It’s excellent from start to finish, and the suite is just breathtaking! Plus, no tedious drum solos that I wind up just skipping anyway.
    Confirmed Bachelors: the dramedy hit of 1883...

  9. #9
    Member daoubourg's Avatar
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    In my opinion, Hamburger Concerto is not only the best of Focus, it's the best album of Dutch Prog in general.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Progbear View Post
    Plus, no tedious drum solos that I wind up just skipping anyway.
    Yeah I think Focus III has some really great things but the longer tracks have too much boring soloing for my taste.

  11. #11
    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    A good album I enjoyed a bunch, along with Ship Of Memories.
    When I bought the Focus 'Hocus Pocus Box' set last year it opened a flood gate of 'Oh Yeah, I remember that'.
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
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  12. #12
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    Moving Waves
    Focus III
    Hamburger Concerto
    Focus X
    Focus 11

    I love those five albums!!! Everything else I've heard has been meh to me...
    Prog's Not Dead

  13. #13
    I prefer by far Moving Waves and Focus III, although the Burger thing is pretty good too. To me this last shows some signs of uncertainty about where to continue musically, or even some signs of stagnation. The level of energy is a bit lower.

    Jan Akkerman is a guitar god btw.

  14. #14
    Worthy of Laudation thedunno's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zappathustra View Post
    I prefer by far Moving Waves and Focus III, although the Burger thing is pretty good too. To me this last shows some signs of uncertainty about where to continue musically, or even some signs of stagnation. The level of energy is a bit lower.

    Jan Akkerman is a guitar god btw.
    I agree. They lost something with Hamburger concerto. Before they always had a large dose of energy and serious fun in their music that kind of dissapeared with HC. Still a very nice album though.

  15. #15
    Member Kcrimso's Avatar
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    I am not big Focus fan but Hamburger Concerto is quite good.
    "A waste of talent and electricity." John Peel on ELP

  16. #16
    That's Mr. to you, Sir!! Trane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JJ88 View Post
    Perhaps the best, most consistent album they made, IMHO. 'La Cathedral De Strasbourg' is maybe my favourite Focus track.

    Can't really comment on much of what followed beyond what's on that best of CD, I heard Mother Focus a long time back but it didn't grab me.
    Indeed, HC is their best, partly because it is very consistent and all tracks but one, are remarkable (love Harem Scarem)


    As for the later stuff, I'll only retain Ship Of Memories, which is surprisingly good for a "bottom-of-drawers" scrapping sessions... the rest (Mother, Con Proby and the new albums don't do anyhting for me - MF being a real turd in my book.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJ88 View Post
    Yeah I think Focus III has some really great things but the longer tracks have too much boring soloing for my taste.
    indeed, PVDL's solo is quite a bore (as all drum solos are, the ones in studios even more) on Anonymous III, but the reprise between him and Ruiter is fantastic (the actual solo proper of Ruiter being also not really interesting, IMHO). Akkerman & Thijs different solos in that track are great.

    Both MW and F3 could've used a bit more "conciseness"
    my music collection increased tenfolds when I switched from heroin-addicts to crazy ones

  17. #17
    I have all of Focus' albums. This is certainly one of their best, especially Hamburger Concerto. There's a live version of it on YouTube which is tremendous.

  18. #18
    That's Mr. to you, Sir!! Trane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rapidfirerob View Post
    I have all of Focus' albums. This is certainly one of their best, especially Hamburger Concerto. There's a live version of it on YouTube which is tremendous.

    How to imbed a YT link:

    click on the video function and insert the linlk, than click "OK3 and the trick is done


    my music collection increased tenfolds when I switched from heroin-addicts to crazy ones

  19. #19
    Moderator Duncan Glenday's Avatar
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    That's an EXCELLENT performance - thanks for posting.

    That live performance was remarkably true to the studio version.

    Great video.
    Regards,

    Duncan

    This place has become the "Cheers" of the Internet.
    -- Rushfan

  20. #20
    Hamburger Concerto is one of my all-time favorite albums. I even got Thijs Van Leer to sign my copy when Focus played ProgDay.

    I was surprised when I learned that "Early Birth" wasn't originally on the album, but was a demo that they tacked on to the CD as a bonus track. It seems like it was meant to be there all along, to "sandwich" the big side-long title track and close out the album perfectly.

    While discussing this album in a prog chat room ages ago, someone pointed out that part of the bass line from "Harem Scarem" was lifted from Miles Davis' In a Silent Way, just sped up considerably. I probably never would have noticed that on my own, but now I can't NOT hear it.
    --
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  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Ground and Sky's Ghost View Post
    While discussing this album in a prog chat room ages ago, someone pointed out that part of the bass line from "Harem Scarem" was lifted from Miles Davis' In a Silent Way, just sped up considerably. I probably never would have noticed that on my own, but now I can't NOT hear it.
    Lol. True.

  22. #22
    Progga mogrooves's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zappathustra View Post
    I prefer by far Moving Waves and Focus III
    Quote Originally Posted by thedunno View Post
    I agree. They lost something with Hamburger concerto.
    Thirded. A disappointment....
    Michael: "Harold, don't you have any other music, you know, from [last] century?"
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  23. #23
    I also prefer Moving Waves but thats not to say I don't like HC a lot.

  24. #24
    "La Cathedral". An impeccable sense of melancholy to that track, especially with the whistling. I'm not so fond of the rest of the record, and I wasn't even back when I considered myself a fan of the band.

    I still like large parts of Moving Waves and Focus 3, though.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

  25. #25
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Taste differs ...
    My favorites in order

    Hamburger concerto
    Live at the Rainbow
    Moving Waves
    Focus III (has to many tedious passages)
    In and Out of Focus
    Ship of Memories


    The more up tempo versions on Rainbow suits me, they tend to get a little butt-heavy on the studio albums at times.
    I do prefer Pierre to Collin, he is more innovative and kicks more ass, but on the studio album Hamburger Collin fits the bill perfectly.
    On the live version (as seen above) he is a bit boring.

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