The hushed, perfect-brushstroke calligraphy of Harold Budd’s music has undergone subtle changes during the past three decades. Budd’s early musical explorations moved from jazz drum (he played in a U.S. Army band with Albert Ayler) into an extreme late-1960s minimalism. By the mid-’70s, he had commingled influences and inspirations — including Morton Feldman, Mark Rothko, and the Mojave Desert landscapes of his youth — into the consonant and consciously sublime sound that brought him to the attention of Brian Eno’s Obscure label. His new full-length, In the Mist, presents 13 short pieces arrayed into three sections, two of (mostly) solo keyboard and one of string quartet compositions.
The first section, “The Whispers,” has a feel similar to that at the heart of Budd’s talismanic 1980s records with Eno and Daniel Lanois. Textures and treatments, created here in collaboration with producer Michael Coleman, add synergistic resonance to the melodies, harmonies, spaces and gentle dynamics of Budd’s elegant and enigmatic compositions and performances. But where the Eno and Lanois treatments on earlier records created an extended halo and sound field, the effect here is that of pieces resonating entirely from within themselves, with grain and texture more at the fore than blurred, reverberant atmosphere.
The second section, “Gunfighters,” presents dark-hued pieces of a more chromatic and starkly ruminative nature, abstract and dissonant, with eerie pitch-shifted pulses looming behind the (at times fragmented) melodic material. With long, sustained and achingly consonant lines, the string quartet pieces that make up the section entitled “Shadows” end the record with a gently romantic mood of slow mystery. They add quiet strength to the sense that In the Mist is one of Budd’s most refined and quintessential records.