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Cipher — No Ordinary Man
(Hidden Art hi-art 5, 1999, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2000-05-01
Ambient music, like any other genre, has many sounds, from purely electronic soundscapes, to cut-and-paste pointillism, to environmental collage. Cipher presents a jazzy take on the quiet side of music. The band consists of Theo Travis (soprano sax, alto flute, keyboards, and samples) and Dave Sturt (fretless bass, programming, and samples), assisted for these sessions by Rabbi Gaddy Zerbib (vocals on one track), and Porcupine Tree’s Richard Barbieri (keyboards and electronics, two tracks) and Steven Wilson (guitar and treatments, two tracks). Much of the music flows with no discernable pulse, consisting of echoey chords and long tones. From time to time, subtle percussive sounds bring up a rhythm, and the duo of fretless bass and soprano sax will enjoy an interlude. Soprano sax, especially when alternated with fretless bass or flute, can often lead to what marketers have dubbed “smooth jazz,” that horrid brand of easy listening music foisted upon listeners in place of anything containing a spark of energy or originality (how’s that for a rant?). Cipher avoid this pitfall without effort, presenting expansive calm without sacrificing intensity to beauty or cheap romanticism. I’m reminded of Steve Tibbett’s quiet classic Northern Song. No Ordinary Man fits in well with the relaxed Hidden Art releases by associated musicians No-Man and Samuel Smiles, being a different jazzy take on the same esthetic. (A quick caveat: there is another band called Cipher, a punkish outfit from Canada, not to be confused with this group.)
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