Harold Budd Avalon Sutra Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Final album from the ambient piano master, released on David Sylvian's label.

Peter Marsh 2004

Harold Budd's calling it a day. After 26 years of solo work and collaborations with everyone from The Cocteau Twins to John Foxx, he feels he's said all he has to say. "I don't mind disappearing", he says.

He leaves behind a body of work that at its best, is possibly unparalleled in its simple beauty. At its worst, it can verge on the insipid. His forlorn, meditative piano playing has become an immediately recognisable sound, whether processed into ambient soundscapes (as on his collaborations with Brian Eno) or left alone to trace delicate, autumnal minimalism.

Whatever the delights of his back catalogue, to my ears Avalon Sutra is possibly Budd's most consistently ravishing work. It owes a lot to the largely acoustic textures of The Pavilion of Dreams, his 1978 debut for Eno's Obscure label. Influenced equally by the more meditative moments of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders as well as minimalist Cage piano works like In a Landscape, it mapped out an area that he's not often returned to since.

Augmented by the woodwinds of Phillip Glass collaborator Jon Gibson and the occasional appearance of a string quartet, the composer's piano offers gentle, rippling arpeggios and skeletal, yearning melodies characterised as much by the space between the notes as the notes themselves. The four duets with Gibson are tiny gems; melancholic but never maudlin.

The pieces with string quartet makes me wish Budd had done more in this vein, or that maybe he'd stick around and do some more. For the remainder of the record the piano is left alone, sometimes with the haze of distant electronic textures. Nothing outstays its welcome; nothing is out of place.

A second CD is given over to a 'remix' of the final track, "As Long As I Can Hold My Breath". Built round loops of processed strings and augmented by that spectral piano, it's one of those pieces that takes on a furniture-like quality when played at low volume. In true Eno style,it becomes part of the environment. Then it finishes, and things seem different, emptier. Goodbye, Mr Budd. We'll miss you.

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