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MUSIC REVIEW

Pianist Budd offers preview of 'La Bella Vista'

October 03, 2003|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

Pianist Harold Budd has long specialized in navigating between zones. Classically trained at USC, he fashioned a spare, meditative brand of minimalism with tentacles in pop and had a role in the "ambient" musical strategies associated with record producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. That particular light baggage was intact when Budd sneaked into the West Hollywood club Largo for a mostly solo piano performance Wednesday night.

The occasion was a preview of Budd's soon-to-be released album, "La Bella Vista." Famed atmosphere-embracer Lanois took the stage first and explained that he "secretly recorded" the music in the living room of his Silver Lake home, fondly known as La Bella Vista. Fittingly, an air of secrecy and living-room languidness colors Budd's new music.

Largo, with its ambient kitchen noises and canned PA sound, is an odd room, in a way, for such delicate music. On the other hand, the unlikely nature of the space, and Budd's frequent courting of a Satie-like fragile beauty, contributed to a refreshingly different art music atmosphere. This, after all, was a venue favored by celebrated jazz pianist Brad Mehldau when he lived here during the '90s -- one he named an album after.

Jazz harmony and improvisational attitudes slip into Budd's playing as well, sometimes echoing jazz pianist Paul Bley's airy touch. Mainly, though, Budd works in his own parallel genre, summoning a unique aura of unsentimental contemplation. In a series of short pieces, he explored limited musical areas, whether a tonality, an evocation of rhythm or a fragment of melody floating in a sustain-pedal haze.

In one piece, a recurring midrange cluster chord was the anchor for restless left-hand work, too amorphous to be called "bass lines," and upper-range shards. The cumulative effect was both playful and cryptic, again with Satie in the wings.

At the end of the show, Lanois joined in on surreal pedal steel parts, including for a version of his song "JJ Leaves L.A.," the lovely closer on his impressive recent album, "Shine." By the time the set ended with an improvised "variation on 'Danny Boy,' " the atmosphere in the room was sufficiently ethereal that patrons seemed to drift out. The Budd effect worked.

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