ith the release of Avalon Sutra, minimalist composer and pianist Harold Budd bids adieu with his final recording. Having decided that he has expressed himself fully, Budd concludes three decades of musical activity with a glorious exeunt that crystallizes his body of work into a singular, magnificent statement. Even if he is still most widely known for his work and association with Brian Eno (including 1980’s Ambient 2: Plateaux of Mirror as well as Pavilion of Dreams and The Pearl), Avalon Sutra trumps them as a crowning peak. The music is graceful, heartfelt, and poignant and the mood elegiac, deepened by themes of remembrance and loss; an aura of autumnal sadness pervades the work―especially its second half―but not depressingly so; instead, Avalon Sutra exudes an aura of becalmed surrender.
Yes, Budd’s a minimalist but of a decidedly inviting sort and, while his pieces are rigorously composed, they’re more impressionistic than coolly systems-based. The first disc features fourteen elegant settings that include solo piano pieces, four duets spotlighting John Gibson’s woodwinds, and four with strings. Budd plays alone in meditative piano pieces like “Porcelain Ginger” and “Faraon” but duets with himself on “A Walk In The Park With Nancy (In Memory)” where his piano is joined by Rhodes glimmers that resonate so strongly they resembles vibes; the aural sculpture “Rue Casimir Delavigne (For Daniel Lentz)” likewise layers pensive piano playing and Rhodes chords onto a drifting cushion of ambient mist and, in “Little Heart”, Budd adds soft chimes and tinkling bell patterns to a call-and-response dialogue of sparkling chords and piano.
The ambient glow of the piano contrasts with the piercing clarity of the sax in the three ruminative “Arabesque” pieces. Coloured by the trill of Gibson’s sopranino, the opening “Arabesque 3” is much like a meditation over an underlying drone, while in “How Vacantly You Stare At Me”, Gibson adds suitably reflective bass flute to Budd’s minimal piano accompaniment. Naturally, contrast permeates the lovely piano and strings pieces, with all four typically pairing lush string passages with minimal piano clusters. The first disc’s dreamy collection is enhanced by the sequencing: sax and string pieces intermingle, even if the string pieces are presented in an uninterrupted group.
The closing piece on disc one, “As Long As I Can Hold My Breath”, offers a brief foretaste of the seventy-minute remix by LA-based electronic composer Akira Rabelais (whose own recent Samadhi Sound release spellewauerynsherde is spellbinding too) that occupies disc two. Like the prelude, the majestic tapestry “As Long As I Can Hold My Breath (By Night)” is dominated by see-sawing waves of strings, cascading piano ripples, and electronic glimmers. The piece is spine-tingling, transporting and timeless, with Budd’s minimal interjections all the more potent in their sparse distribution. The drone-like work expands panoramically in diametric contrast to the evanescent miniatures of the first half, yet both sides of the album’s dimensions are equally captivating. It would be hard to imagine another artist’s final work matching the sublimity of Budd’s parting gesture. If Avalon Sutra is a valediction, it’s surely one of triumph, not defeat.
Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Reviewed on: 2004-11-22