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Artist: Skalpel

Album: Skalpel

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Jul. 15, 2004

Skalpel are Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo, two DJs from Wroclaw, Poland. After releasing a demo CD-R entitled Polish Jazz, the two joined the Ninja Tune stable, and have spent the last two years building a collection of samples from the Polish jazz scene of the ’60s and ’70s. What's that? You didn't know there was such a scene? Join the club. But now, thanks to Skalpel, we have a re-imagined Polish jazz scene for the 21st century.

As might be imagined, the results are equal parts smoky, dark jazz club and polished, tightly-sequenced beats. It's easy to hear why this music appealed to the Ninja Tune folks, as the carefully-edited and re-composed jazz material is strongly reminiscent of Coldcut, Herbaliser, and the like. Cichy and Pudlo have done a stellar job of recontextualizing these drum breaks, bass lines, horn stabs, and other sounds into a variety of songs, from groove-driven to atmospheric.

The opening track "High," for example, manages to be somehow smooth and jerky at the same time – rich, dense, and energetic. "1958" plies similar territory, with a fast rhythm, piano, and splashing cymbals and snare hits.

Following the jazzy style, most of the pieces rely on smooth bass lines riding on sparse, interesting drums. Smooth horns, sparkling keyboards, and frequent piano tidbits drop in for a visit, then move on. As is so often the case, this sort of jazz-derived work brings to mind dark noir visions, ’70s crime films, and smoky lounges, like on. "Break In." Halfway through, it descends into ominous quiet, then a rat-a-tat snare leads it back up, decorated by rubbery stand-up bass and vibes.

"Asphodel" and "Theme from 'Behind the Curtain'" also show this duo's ability to delve into mysterious, dreamy realms, but I should single out "Quiz" as their opposite. It's a fun, high-tempo party tune buoyed by a bouncy organ.

By the time the end of "Sculpture" comes along, with its laid-back, opium den evocation, you'll have traveled far and wide alongside Skalpel's music, and you'll probably be ready to start all over again at the beginning. They've crafted an impressive collection.

By Mason Jones

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