Chris Gall & Bernhard Schimpelsberger is a jazz piano and percussion duo formed in 2016. Piano and drums duos are extremely rare, especially in the realm of jazz where the formation will always be considered a double bass-short of the classic trio. But the absence of an official bass is more than adequately compensated here by the percussive range of Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s polyphonic drum kit which includes pitched bass drums as well as various other percussive instruments and frame drums borrowed from other traditions. As well as that, “the fact that it’s only the two of us opens possibilities to be more free and react to each other much faster” notes Chris Gall.

In addition to setting up an unusual instrumental duo, the pair have also turned the conventional music recording cycle on its head by releasing their début in January 2017 with a straight to vinyl live concert. Recorded in June 2016 at the Bauer Studios in Ludwigsburg, Germany, Studio Konzert features 5 new compositions with the entire B Side dedicated to a 22 minute piece.

Following on from the live album and introduced as an exploration of “percussion and rhythm in a harmonic and melodic way”, the duo’s new project Myriad was released on the GLM label on 24th April 2020 last.

Chris Gall & Bernhard Schimpelsberger - Myriad (2020)
Chris Gall & Bernhard Schimpelsberger – Myriad (2020)

Based in Munich, Chris Gall is a classically-trained jazz pianist and a former graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He has already recorded extensively as a trio with his own brother and drummer Peter (including two albums for ACT Music), as a solo musician or more recently in a duo with German saxophone player Mulo Francel.

Growing up in Austria, Bernhard Schimpelsberger started drumming aged 15, but his encounter with master tabla player Pandit Suresh Talwalkar a year later changed the course of his musical career. By learning the complex tabla-based grammar of Hindustani music, the musician gradually transposed Indian rhythms to the Western drum kit and developed his own hybrid percussion style.

Following his move to London to be in touch with a more cosmopolitan and multicultural society, Bernhard has collaborated with Rakesh Chaurasia, Anoushka Shankar, Nitin Sawhney, Susheela Raman, Talvin Sing or sarode player Sumik Datta as the Circle of Sound duo.

There are so may avenues opened to jazz musicians when it comes to composition – developing new harmonic or melodic progressions, borrowing from and fusing with other traditions, experimenting with instruments and ensemble playing or plain improvisation. The Chris Gall & Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s Myriad project toys with rhythm and percussion instruments as the basis for new compositions while juggling with a multitude of reference points.

Seven new compositions on the record feature diverse drums such as Garrapata bells (6 tuned bells), a wooden tongue drum or a La Olá Drum for instance, a new hybrid percussion instrument based on the cajón box and developed by the German company Schlagwerk. Concluding the album, “New Life” feature a Kalimba, the African thumb piano whose overtones chime wonderfully with Chris Gall’s piano.

As a percussionist with a deep knowledge of diverse musical cultures, Bernhard Schimpelsberger introduces Seguiriya rhythmic patterns borrowed from flamenco on “Segeriyua”. He is also proficient in Konnakol, the South Indian vocal percussion style that enables musicians to decompose complex rhythmic phrases into spoken syllables. Both “The Wheel” and “New Life” feature Konnakol and add another rhythmic and harmonic dimension to the overall sound of the duo.

The rhythm-based sonic investigation rooted in western jazz improvisation introduced throughout the Myriad project blends seamlessly in a reprise of John Cage’s 1948 piece “In a landscape”. “I kept the basic tempo of the original version, shortened it by two minutes but hardly altered any notes” says Chris Gall, “only the denseness and intensity of it changed.”  The daring re-interpretation shines here a magnificent new light on a composer whose music also stood at the crossroads of East and West.