Skalpel: Konfusion

Tim O'Neil

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.



Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2005-11-01
UK Release Date: 2005-10-03

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.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.