At 67, with his 23rd album freshly pressed, ambient music maverick and pianist Harold Budd is in a somber mood. Alone at a baby grand that filled most of the Largo stage, Budd proffered six meditative tunes that rolled and lapped like waves, honing in on a reflective sadness. It’s a quality that doesn’t necessarily show through on his current release, “La Bella Vista” (Shout Factory!), but its appearance reveals the depth of his gentle, often simply structured compositions.
A legendary ambient composer from Los Angeles, Budd works with compact lines — sure, call it minimalism, but not in a derogatory way — that have an immediate, rather than cumulative, effect on the listener. In some cases he paints cinematic strokes; in others, the music’s as intimate as a lullaby. The compositions, with some improvisation thrown in, have an unexacting openness, and judging by his facial expressions, his slightly rusty playing did not always go where he wanted it to. As a mood generator, though, he had the packed room swaying his way.
Daniel Lanois produced “La Bella Vista,” his first production job since U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” The two met while working with Brian Eno in 1980 on the landmark “Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror,” an association that boosted Budd’s profile and has led to him being consistently recorded over the last 20-plus years. Lanois accompanied Budd on pedal steel guitar for three songs, creating country-fied atmospherics that filled the holes in Budd’s economical playing. A gentle improvisation on “Danny Boy” displayed their musical geniality at its height.