Music News & Reviews

Critic's picks: Harold Budd and Clive Wright, Fripp & Eno

Harold Budd and Clive Wright

A Song for Lost Blossoms

Fripp & Eno

No Pussyfooting and Evening Star

While wading through Pensive Aphrodite, the hypnotic 32-minute opening suite on A Song for Lost Blossoms, keyboardist and ambient-music pioneer Harold Budd and guitarist Clive Wright unexpectedly peel back the years.

Within Pensive Aphrodite, Budd's keyboards set up attractive orchestrations that move in ultra-slow motion, just as they have on his albums for the past three decades. Wright's guitar colors don't serve as a foil or even a conversation piece. They instead drift in and out of the keyboard maze to modestly intensify the mood. In other words, Wright (of Cock Robin, the band responsible for the neglected mid-'80s pop hit When Your Heart Is Weak) is a welcome visitor to Budd's ambient plateau — but a visitor nonetheless.

That we even have this collaboration is something of a wonder. Budd announced his retirement four years ago. So the release of A Song for Lost Blossoms comes as something of a surprise even if the music it contains is often indistinguishable from Budd's other atmospheric recordings.

But another reference point surfaces when listening to Lost Blossoms. The way Wright's guitar seems to almost subvert the recording's meditative stance brings to mind one of the great blueprint albums in progressive instrumental music: 1973's No Pussyfooting by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. And what a coincidence: That record and its 1975 follow-up, Evening Star, have been beautifully remastered and reissued this fall.

One could argue that there are links to the revolutionary classicism of John Cage or even the early electronic adventures of Tangerine Dream in No Pussyfooting. But Fripp and Eno — the former then in the thick of his most adventurous '70s music with King Crimson, while the latter had split from Roxy Music to begin a musical voyage that would team him with Budd in the early '80s — mostly design their own template of sound with dronelike effects, primitive tape loops and harmony that remains otherworldly to this day.

The opening passage of No Pussyfooting's The Heavenly Music Corporation, in fact, sounds less like electronic music and more like an elongated chant in which guitar, keyboards and tape effects blur. It's not until the unmistakable tone of Fripp's guitar work enters in layers that you get much feel for which instrumentalist is doing what.

Wright's guitar doesn't play against anything nearly so confrontational on Lost Blossoms. One of No Pussyfooting's most arresting traits, after all, remains its sense of dynamics. The ebb and flow of its music is still breathtaking, but the way Wright services and reacts to Budd's more contemplative backdrops is similar.

Those who have enjoyed No Pussyfooting for years will find big fun in the reissue's bounteous bonus material. It reconstructs the entire album in reverse (the effect is only slightly less startling than the original recording) and all of Heavenly Music in a half-speed exercise in which guitar glacially embellishes the music over 41 minutes.

There is no such tinkering on the remastered Evening Star, a perhaps less daring but far more approachable work in which the compositional links to Budd's music are stronger. Within the contours of Evensong and Evening Star's title track is a serene but substantial aural fabric that still is a proud forefather to the ambient-minded generations that came in the music's gloriously understated wake.