Published Apr 10, 2018Harold Budd has never been comfortable with the ambient label with which he's most often associated — a few studio sessions with Brian Eno will do that to you though. The truth is that regardless of his considerable talents as a composer and pianist, he'd have earned a smaller audience without the connection.
Celebrity status aside, Budd is better understood from the perspective of mid-20th century avant-garde music. He began composing in 1962, after earning a degree from the University of Southern California. Budd's work grew increasingly minimal during those early professional years. While his compositions won him an audience of avant-garde enthusiasts, he's on-record saying he felt the scene was "self-congratulatory and risk-free." His response was to produce increasingly minimalist work, until he quit composing altogether in 1970 (the same year his professor Ingolf Dahl died).
Two years later, Budd was back with the first in a series of works he'd eventually label The Pavilion of Dreams. Over time, Budd's dedication to unabashedly "pretty" piano music dovetailed with Eno and others active in the ambient space. Budd remains an esteemed figure in that scene, despite not having recorded since 2010.
This reissue of Luxa, produced for All Saints Records in 1996, is available on vinyl for the first time (it's a double-LP, pressed at 45 rpm). Coming after a five-year break from recording, it was not a major Budd work. Just the same, it serves as a document of his uniquely imaginative approach to composition. Paired with his under-appreciated skill as a pianist, Luxa is a bit of a lost gem.
The disc is in four parts: the improbably titled "Butterflies With Tits," "Inexact Shadows," "Smoke Trees" and "Laughing Innuendos." The first includes tributes to Agnes Martin, a Canadian-born abstract painter, sculptor Anish Kapoor and contemporary artists Paul McCarthy and Serge Poliakoff. This is vintage Budd; each of the six tracks are sunny-day beautiful.
"Inexact Shadows" includes three short acoustic piano pieces, complemented by gentle percussion. While the performances are somewhat conventional by Budd standards, the percussion lends these three small works an experimental feel.
"Smoke Trees" is the album's drone section. You can imagine these five tracks receiving major airtime on Eno's Sony Walkman at the time. "Chet" is a stunning seven-plus-minute piece. "Mandan" incorporates rattles and shakers. "Feral" could do with a command performance at Westminster Abbey. Finally, we get two covers under the heading "Laughing Innuendos." Marion Brown's solo organ piece "Sweet Earth Flying" and Steven Brown's (of Tuxedomoon) "Pleasure" are presented with great care and respect. (Curious Music)