JAN AKKERMAN is the Dutch guitarist who co-founded FOCUS back in the late 60s with yodeling keyboards-wiz and incomparable flautist Thijs van Leer.
In 1969 the outfit, that also included Hans Cleuver (drummer) and Martijn Dresden (bassist) was the pit band for the Dutch theatrical production of musical Hair — but the group started to explore the possibilities of progressive rock in 1970 and later had big hits with the (still) much loved prog-pop moments: “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia.”
Tensions between the two maestros led to an inevitable break-up in 1985, though Thijs van Leer reformed Focus in 2002 and has been plodding away ever since.
In 1992 AKKERMAN was involved in a car accident, which stopped him from playing till 1993. After an absence of almost 20 years, he was persuaded to tour the UK again. “North Sea Jazz” his most recent release (2013) is notable for its jazzy moments and has been compared, by fans, to the best of John Mayall.
Now, at age 72, the uniquely talented guitarist finds his reputation secured by past glories and his future secured by the promise of more to come: he received Netherland’s most prestigious music prize, the Golden Harp Award, in early 2005, and in 2012 he was appointed Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau, a royal honor that acknowledged his contribution to Dutch music and influence on world music.
“Close Beauty” [the album is to be released on 25 October] sees the return of the characteristic ‘Akkerman-sound’ which runs like a ribbon through twelve compositions; acoustic, electric, solo performing and accompanied by his own band, Marijn van den Berg (drums), David de Marez Oyens (bass) and Coen Molenaar (keyboards). Long-time confederate, Molenaar, also produced the album, recorded at Marten Haak’s Studio.
From the relaxed, easy-handed yet sweeping sound of “Beyond The Horizon” we dip into the flamenco fantasique of “Reunion”. This is a spirited, rhythmical dance that perhaps wouldn’t be lost on Santana’s Corazón.
Title track, “Close Beauty” has an even-paced tap and graceful lines of guitar that seem to crumple around the creamy keys in the most supple of ways. This is a thing of seraphic charm.
“Passagaglia” (literally: to walk a street) originally referred to a line of guitar-notes spread across a bass-ostinato. Here, Akkerman’s variation on passacaglio has compacted notes and contains more than a hint of woebegone spirit despite the frolicking motifs that spring and glide like sprites in an enchanted air.
“Tommy’s Anniversary” could easily have been found on “Moving Waves” (1971) with that langerous yet utterly relaxing fusion-style of his, the leisurely guitar-notes bubbling without any strict purpose, yet building towards an agreeable and engaging conclusion.
This is a full and lustrous album of beauteous moments and bountiful charm.
File alongside: Mike Oldfield