Skalpel’s eponymous debut on Ninja Tune is a milestone for more than one reason, but mostly because it introduces — through some heavy-handed sampling — a branch of jazz that may be entirely foreign to most record buyers: Polish jazz circa the sixties and seventies. At the time, the jazz artists were seen as threats to Communism, and the music was revolutionary in that it was a product of samizdat, or self-publishing. In 2004, we are fortunate to have seasoned the deejays/producers in Skalpel unveiling this virtually secret tradition on U.S. soil.
The Polish duo is Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo, who have each gained notable ground in their home country’s electronic-music scene. After some critically acclaimed mixtapes and a tour with DJ Vadim, Skalpel landed a deal with Ninja Tune. The result of their careful crate-digging is this minimally packaged collection of resurrected Polish jazz landmarks.
Skalpel staggers through a series of different late-night scenes — it’s as if you’re passing several crowded rooms in a warehouse throw-down only to discover the space just right for that particular moment. When the curtains open on the suggestively titled “High,” Skalpel paints a smoky dance floor with hand drums and a sultry standup bass. Brass and chimes sneak in and out, introducing an overwhelming air of mystery that remains intact until the last groove spins into closure.
Some of the record’s beauty is undeniably in its track listing — the duo is well versed in arranging a party structure. Skalpel allows for plenty of saucy jazz breaks to be interrupted by snippets of crackling vinyl vocals and trailing distant piano keys. The duo showcases psychedelic aspects that probably didn’t exist in Polish jazz standards, such as in “Together,” where a thick beat starts, stops and starts again, wrapping itself around looped bass and swirling sax. Skalpel’s keen inventive sense is put to good use on the album; they dust off records and then clean them up, exposing jewels and highlighting the best parts.
Cichy and Pudlo have created an urge to explore what is for the most part unexplored. But by embracing this genre, Skalpel has modernized it, and Skalpel‘s prominent beats and candlelit flourishes make for a consistently stimulating debut.