Harold Budd has managed to tinker with minimalism for years without ever being boring. What happened this time?
"...Harold [Budd]'s piano is always recognizable within the first three notes of any song."
The above sentence, from Bandits of Stature's press release, is a quite the compliment. Many a musician would sacrifice their right arm if it meant having a recognizable musical personality, even if it took them two dozen notes to reach it. But like his contemporary Brian Eno, Harold Budd has long considered himself a non-musician. Rather than boast any kind of musical knowledge and skill, Budd has been happy just being a reluctant conduit between good ideas and fancy tools. This humble approach to minimalism has led to many fruitful collaborations with some very like-minded individuals such as Eno, ex-Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, Clive Wright, Jon Hassell and ex-XTC songwriter Andy Partridge, of all people. On Bandits of Stature, Harold Budd is taking on the string quartet form with the Formalist Quartet along for the ride. The album is made up of two large works broken into smaller movements -- "Merry-Go-Round" and "String Quartet 2003". Budd plays piano on one track, "Veil of Orpheus (Cy Twombly's)", the conclusion of the "Merry-Go-Round" suite.
I wish there was more to report on Bandits of Stature, but there isn't. If there wasn't much going on in the mechanics of Little Windows, Bordeaux and Through the Hill, there was at least an accessible sense of sound to them, allowing for the teleportation of one's imagination. If Budd could transport you to your happy place in three notes, a guy like Guthrie needed only two notes with lots of reverb to appropriately compliment Budd's piano and synthesizers. Bandits of Stature has a very dry sound, aesthetically and literally, as nonabsorbent as the wood in a violin workshop. The 34-minute "Merry-Go-Round" suite is supposed to be repetitive. After all, it's named after a ride that goes in a circular motion where only children get a true sense of payoff. But it's discouraging how Budd's three-note calling card tries in vain to translate to the art of the string quartet. What the suite does have going for it is a singular display of mood and probably a future in academic study. These are the only recommendations I can offer.
The 11-minute "String Quartet 2003" continues the same molasses pace of swells rotated into the ground as "Merry-Go-Round", though the harmonic makeup branches out a little bit. It's more interesting than the first extended work, but only comparatively. If it were on any other Harold Budd release, it could easily be overlooked. Actually, any of the fourteen tracks of Bandits of Stature would get lost in any other Harold Budd release. For someone who can announce his entrance after just three notes on the piano, these works are frustratingly anonymous.