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Harold Budd is perhaps that rarest thing in the popular music industry: he is utterly unique. In fact there are few people who I feel the loss of which would be a loss to the musical landscape, even though I might love their music, because there are others who explore similar musical arenas and hence would fill the void.
Harold Budd is almost the only musician I would say is irreplaceable.
Sadly, Budd has chosen recently to retire, saying he has said all he wishes to and is happy simply to disappear away. One can only hope that even if Budd does (and here's hoping he decides to return to music) that his music never follows suit.
But just who is Harold Budd? He studied musical composition in the early seventies and whilst in his mid-forties released his first ever record, Pavilion of Dreams, in 1978 on Brian Eno's short lived Obscure label. These works were more classical in tone than any of his work that would proceed it (though somewhat less so of La Bella Vista). From Pavilion Budd collaborated most famously on Plateaux of Mirror with Brian Eno, and it is this that brought him to the attention of would be fans (any association with Brian Eno providing a kind of kudos, and in Budd's case certainly merited).
But back to La Bella Vista - to the music.
Budd's music is often described as simply floating ambient piano, and in many ways this is entirely correct. His albums (collaborative or solo) are often backed by warm and subtle atmospherics whilst his piano floats in the foreground. For floats Budd's piano does; Budd is not especially interested in rhythm or melody even. This is not to say Budd's piano is clashing or strident, ala most music that eschews melody. Rather Budd is interested in the use of sound, often barely seeming to do anything, his playing pared down to the absolute minimum, but in such a way that a single note appears at almost the perfect moment. Budd's music is evocative and gentle, yet never bland and generically relaxing - please do not think Chill Out. Admittedly I often listen to Budd around midnight whilst reading, glass of red wine beside me, because it's perfect late night music.
La Bella Vista is very much this. In fact La Bella Vista is Budd pared down more than usual. This is because La Bella Vista is an almost entirely extemporised album, recorded surreptitiously at Daniel Lanois' home, where Budd fell upon Lanois apparently gorgeous piano and began to improvise spontaneously for Lanois' guests. Little did he know Lanois was recording him. With a few additions in the studio afterwards these recording would become La Bella Vista, and it is stunning to think that this album is almost entirely an on the spot invention, without premeditation or previous composition, for it is an enormously coherent and consistent album.
Comprising 10 often short tracks, with the exception of the final piece, Leopardo Delle Nevi, lasting a good ten minutes, La Bella Vista is, as always with Budd, a beautifully warm album. There are no attempts at crescendo or discordance to prod the listener. If anything the album sucks the listener into a sort of emotional reverie, as Budd's music, gentle, often almost entirely hypnotic, drifts with an elegant grace and subtle beauty that belies his skill and his innate feel for the instrument.
Because of the nature of the album: the gracefully, drifting coherence of the music, it is impossible to say that this one piece or the other is of particular merit, because the album flows in one consistent, rich river of sound, whilst managing to avoid any form of excessive repetition or tedious muchness. It is never boring nor do I think Budd is capable of being boring, no matter how little he seems to play. Many artists and composers simply cannot use silence (and I include such eminent figures here as Steve Reich) yet Budd never has an issue with silence, or sound; as in La Bella Vista he perfects his style, reaching perhaps the pinnacle of his career, generating a beautifully rich and warm sound. If anything by Budd's standard La Bella Vista is almost conventionally melodious, and at times is reminiscent of Satie, and most likely Satie fans would enjoy it - also those who appreciate Philip Glass' more straightforward keyboard works. Even those who enjoy Bill Evans might be worth seeking out a copy.
Overall, La Bella Vista is a deliciously textured, warm, entrancing, subtle and finally beautiful album. Best listened to at night, or when in a contemplative mood, but then that's my opinion. Admittedly it's not a radical or revolutionary album and I don't think it's going to change anyone's life, but then I think any such claims are nonsense. Still, it might just get you running out to buy many more Budd albums.
If anyone is interested in investigating this unique, elegant and to my mind necessary musician then avoid Amazon as it's more expensive that Play, who have La Bella Vista for a reasonable £11.99, though if you search about a bit you might find it a little cheaper.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Bell Tower
3 The Rose
5 Her Face
6 Children's Games Beyond Our Reach
7 The Avenue
8 Bird Charmer
9 Other Flowers
10 Il Leopardo delle Nevi