When standing in front of an abstract painting, especially something abstract expressionist, the question to ask isn't "What is it?" but rather "How does it make you feel?" The same sense of evocation is true for ambient music.
This idea is succinctly summed up by Pensive Aphrodite, the opening, 32-minute track on the 2008 album A Song for Lost Blossoms by pianist Harold Budd and guitarist Clive Wright. Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and pleasure yet this embodiment of passion is cast contemplative. We ourselves are given over a half hour to ponder the nature of beauty within the soundscape created by Budd's soft piano work and Wright's pulsing guitar. Recorded partly in Joshua Tree, California where the two artists met, Pensive Aphrodite creates a sense of nightfall in that Mojave Desert. Budd sonically creates the desert landscape and sky and Wright provides accents and lighting from the setting sun.
At least, that's how it makes me feel. You might feel differently. Which is part of the fun, if you will, of ambient music - the listener is an integral part of the experience. In fact, I find that a lot of Budd's music gives me a very strong seasonal sense of the outdoors - Winter Garden, In the Mist, Lovely Thunder. Alas, like most amateurish attempts to divine meaning from something abstract, this concept breaks down for works like The Room and La Bella Vista. But I digress.
The title track of A Song for Lost Blossoms is built around a poem of the same name by Wright's former bandmate with Cock Robin, Anna LaCazio. Based on the little biographical information about Budd that I have been able to find, his retirement in the mid 2000s was a self-imposed exile based on trauma in his personal life that he was able to work through and then re-emerge from with collaborations like this one with Wright. In that light, LaCazio's spoken word lyrics are insightful.
Look at what's happenedThere is a wonderful sense of renewal in those words and in the music, full of Budd's rising and falling keyboard runs.
while the world fell asleep
gliding like west
kneeling to the east in search
my chest just beneath
where blood runs deep
and heart is an organ
which pumps for sound
bent red in deep deep pain
I'll remember what I've seen
and become awake
from the sun rising
Forever Hold My Breath, reminiscent of one part of Budd's 2-CD album from 2005, Avalon Sutra/As Long As I Can Hold My Breath, is carried by Wright's guitar work which provides a great framework of long runs that I liken to vocal phrases done with one breath. Going back to the theme of renewal, you can play word games with the relative meaning of As Long As I Can Hold my Breath from before Budd's retirement to Forever Hold My Breath after: uncertainty before, certainty after. I write this knowing that Budd often disclaims any embedded meaning in his work.
At This Moment, the fourth track, is available on YouTube for you to enjoy. This one is titled aptly because I get the impression that Budd's work is mostly about creating a sense of time and place. The version on the album was recorded live, adding to this spatial fixedness.
Other reviewers have compared the Budd-Wright collaborations to Eno and Fripp but I just don't see that beyond the obvious surface similarities. In particular, I find Fripp's work to be virtually inimitable, a fact which in no way detracts from Wright's abilities.
A Song for Lost Blossoms is a great addition to my collection of Budd's music and my first that includes Wright. If you're a fan of ambience, you'll enjoy it too.
Shizaru by Naked Truth
I don't remember exactly where or when I first heard about Naked Truth's album Shizaru but I expect it was some King Crimson related online forum or blog because of Pat Mastelotto's (drums and percussion) involvement. Also, my recent discovery of Jon Hassell's trumpet-based post-modern work (e.g. Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street) made me more receptive to other trumpet-based work, this time by Cuong Vu (Pat Metheny, etc.). The group is rounded out by Roy Powell on keyboards and Lorenzo Feliciati (the group's leader) on bass and guitar.
This is a jazz album. But that doesn't tell you much. Feliciati's goal was supposedly to create a group where all voices are equal. And he succeeded. You should not infer any commonality with the Budd-Wright work reviewed above. The two are quite different sonically. Shizaru presents a richly detailed wall of sound, packed with the interplay of the four musicians. Feliciati's bass work is especially strong and his interplay with Mastelotto provides Vu and Powell with a great framework. Each voice rises up and falls back, weaves in and out. Budd & Wright create music that's very spacious and open sonically while Naked Truth delivers a dense matrix of sound.
I especially like the title track. A sonorous beat crescendos into a pounding guitar riff that then segues into Vu's almost vocal trumpet lines. Powell then takes over with what might be considered classical jazz while the other three players surge beneath him. And then the whole thing just ends. It left me wishing it went on and on.
There is an improvisational quality to Shizaru that gives the work of these accomplished musicians a spontaneity. Other than that, I lack the musical vocabulary to describe what, for me, was a unique musical experience. (I dare not offer Mile Davis/King Crimson or Return to Forever/Liquid Tension Experiment analogies.) Three tracks from Shizaru are available on Soundcloud for you judge for yourself.
The name Shizaru is the name of the oft-omitted fourth monkey in the See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil trio. Shizaru symbolizes Do No Evil. Defined by a quadruple negative, presented as an all-star quartet, Naked Truth exceeds their mandate and does something really good.