Harold Budd: In The Mist

American neo-classical composer Harold Budd has been releasing music for so many years now, one would think it might be fairly easy to predict what a new collection will sound like even before pressing “Play.” To some degree that is the case with In The Mist, as about two-thirds of it conforms to expectation when Budd again offers up a signature set of lovely, often sparsely defined piano pieces reverberant with sustain. There's one very real sense, however, in which Budd surprises the listener with an unexpected left turn—but more on that in a minute.

Harmonious, ethereal, meditative, pastoral—any and all such descriptions apply to the thirteen settings that Budd has grouped into three “movements”: The Whispers, Gunfighters, and Shadows. The tone of The Whispers' five pieces is subdued, minimal, and reverberant, with the latter sometimes taken to an extreme degree. Budd pays tribute to kindred artists, one presumes, in titling two of them “The Foundry (for Mika Vainio)” and “The Art of Mirrors (after Derek Jarman),” the former a soothing lilt of shudder and twilight ambiance and the latter as delicate as a ghostly apparition and as spacious as an empty colosseum. Don't let the Gunfighters title fool you: Budd doesn't abandon his normal style for a Cecil Taylor-like attack, but rather offers, compared to the opening section, a slightly more dramatic style, whether it's the subtly bluesy “Three-Fingered Jack” or “Greek George,” where twinkly percussive details augment the piano figures.

The surprise comes, of course, in the third part, Shadows, not simply because its five pieces are scored for string quartet (violinists Linda J. Lambie and Hisami Lijima, violist Peter Rosato, and cellist Richard Bock) and exclude piano completely but because in a subtle way the compositional tone differs from the other parts. Yes, the writing, as in the preceding sections, evidences Budd's penchant for restraint and sensitivity to space, yet it also expresses a sadness reminiscent of the more elegiac parts of Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo score. One hears that romantic tone emerge in Budd's recording during “Sun at 6 Windows” and “Mars and the Artist (after Cy Twombly)” (one also could easily imagine Budd's “Come Back to Me in Dreams” title as a distillation of John “Scottie” Ferguson's desperate desire in Hitchcock's film for Madeleine Elster's return to life). There's a softness as well about the strings' sound that complements the wistful mood of this final part. It's this third section, then, of In The Mist that most recommends the release, in particular for those listeners who already have Budd recordings in their libraries.

October 2011