Contact with this Wrocław duo's first record is an experience far beyond merely listening to a album.
The musicians from Skapel have succeeded in breathing new life into the spirit of Polish and Eastern European jazz from the 1960s and 70s, and they have accomplished this with great skill and tenderness. The Polish Jazz vinyl series, which can be found lying in the dusty corners of antique shops to this day, seems to now resonate anew in the compositions of Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudło. And this new life sounds a bit different to the very trendy nu-jazz sounds of the early 21st century. There is no room for smooth and easily-flowing sounds aimed at merely relaxing the listener. Their music is more like going to dance party in a deserted house, or, listening to a concert on a tram from Nowa Huta to Kraków. This dance party would aim, it seems to me, to go beyound the world of sound and capture a tale about the tense atmosphere in which Eastern European jazz was born. In the end, Skalpel released two of their records with the British Ninja Tune label, and thus reached an audience for whom Eastern Europe's communist past was a truly exotic one.
I have the impression that a shared search for the pieces from which the sampled fragments are derived is in a fact a generational experience, connecting tens – if not hundreds – of people who began their conscious enjoyment of music in the early 21st century. The Wrocław duo's great merit goes beyond creating fantastic and erudite music. First of all, it teaches a love for singular, unique sounds, and a love for detail. Admittedly, this detail is not always beautiful and full of grace. Numerous noises, glitches and stumbles can be heard in jazz from behind the iron curtain. Some of these flaws are the result of poor quality vinyl pressing (a similiar problem to that of film from the period), while others are also the musicians' mistakes, and their sometimes clumsy attempts at using a language that is foreign to them.
When, in 2005, the Skalpel duo fell silent, it left its fans nearly orphaned. Nearly, because the members of the duo continued to create music in solo projects (with Pudło performing as Igor Boxx, and Cichy using the stage name Meeting by Chance). Now they make a return with an EP that seems to fortell a coming LP. Everything is clearer, and thus – more jumpy. If anyone asked me to classify the music on Simple, I would reply with no hestitaion that it's dance music.
The swinging samples of brass instruments show a light, easily-flowing groove. Ethereal vocalisations seem to enduce a state of relaxation too. Although they are covered over with the instrumental layer, they surface on top with ease. The greatest dramaturgy (it's worth remembering, because it's what lets us dance) hides in the percussion layer. From looped passages conjured up out of a few decisive beats (which must have once been bits of wild solos), through a delicate rubbing of the cymbals with brushes, to the blissful resonance of the vibraphone.
Apart from the percussion samples, the flow of events is sometimes decided by silence and the ambiguities that it carries. This is the case in the 7-minute long Soundtrack, the most complex piece on the "simple" record. It is a piece that is evocative of the duo's beginning, while hinting at the idea that something has changed. Skalpel have now reached further beyond the Iron Curtain, and their care for detail is no longer in the service of discovering a complex past. What does it serve today? We don't know yet - there are two more mini-albums ahead of us, and then, a full-length album.
- Skalpel, ''Simple'' (CD, 12'', mp3), PlugAudio, May 2014
Author: Filip Lech, translated with edits by Paulina Schlosser, 6/06/2014