Skalpel: Konfusion

[6 December 2005]

By Tim O'Neil

If you didn’t know beforehand, it would be hard to tell that Skalpel weren’t actually a hot jazz combo. I’m sitting here with not only the CD but the press packet in my hands, and despite the fact that the music is clearly defined as “intelligent cut and paste”, so uncanny is the approximation of real, live jazz that you can practically feel the warm, sooty smoke from the interior of the club wafting over to your table near the bar. Many electronic artists work in the gray areas separating jazz from hip-hop and electronic music, but few do so as effectively, or should I say invisibly, as Skalpel. Apart from a few electronic embellishments here and there, this is definitely and irrefutibly jazz.

Skalpel is the Polish duo of Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudio. Apparently their music pulls from the rich history of Polish jazz—I don’t want to sound dismissive, but I wasn’t aware there was much of a history of Polish jazz. If it’s strong enough to have produced music like this, however, the pedigree bears further investigation.

But there is little trace of any defining ethnic flavor here. Rather, the prevailing mood is early ‘70s fusion. The title track serves as the best example of this. From the stuttering, elaborate rock drums to the squonking wah-wah trumpet, this could very easily have been an outtake off Miles Davis’ freaktastic Live / Evil. They’ve got all the strange tempo changes, exotic percussion and grinding guitar work that made Davis’ fusion so beguiling and darkly psychedelic.

The album begins on a more doctrinaire note, however, with “Shivers”, a track that is more reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s early fusion than Davis. Over a mellow, shifting high-hat pattern, the organ and guitar play an intricate game of tag around the melody. It’s almost too much to believe that this is the product of samplers and computers, so convincing is the interplay between these sampled musicians.

The album delivers varying degrees of pleasure throughout. “Flying Officer”, built on a recurring, and downright nasty upright bass lick, reminds me of something Kruder & Dorfmeister may have left off the G-Stoned EP. “Long Distance Call” and “Test Drive” betray the same DNA as any number of DJ Shadow tracks, with moody melodic patterns built over a bedrock of extremely funky drum loops. The album concludes with “Seaweed”, a moody, almost violent exercise in recondite rhythm the likes of which could have been recorded by Lamb around the period of their first album.

The album comes packaged with a bonus disc of remixes that proves just as delightful as the actual album. Previously available only on vinyl, many of these tracks take the duo’s sound further away from the pure jazz template and into something more exotic. Quantic produce a downright weird remix of “1958” that seems to be about two moments away from breaking into jungle at any given moment. Skalpel’s remix of the same song sounds like a lost soul 7” in the mode of something the Funk Brothers may have concocted in twenty minutes of free studio time.

There’s a lot of fun stuff to be found on here, representing a variety of sounds from the last fifty years of jazz and soul history. If I wanted to I could wax poetic simply on the virtues of the Amalgamation of Soundz Reconstruction of “Low”—a quiet samba-infused track that achieves a brooding, borderline spiritual intensity. Leave it be said that for jazz fans and beat-heads both, Konfusion offers a dizzying variety of highlights for your greedy enjoyment.

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