«Norwegian jazz pianist Maria Kannegaard and drummer Thomas Strønen formed Monsters And Puppets after they were invited to perform at the Molde Jazz Festival together, yet while this is an entirely new project for them, the pair have worked together from some years as part the Maria Kannegaard Trio, with bass player Ole Morten Vågan, and have a number of albums under their belt.
With their self-titled debut album, the pair go beyond the confines of jazz to incorporate elements of improv, noise and rock.
Far from the airy landscapes of the Kannegaard Trio or the delicate formations of Iain Ballamy’s Food, with whom Strønen has been involved for over twelve years, Monsters And Puppets is an often dark and complex affair which continuously shifts from relatively minimal set ups to much denser, and often harsher, moments.
Right from the opening sequence of One (the nine tracks are simply numbered here), a highly distorted Fender Rhodes is confronted with electronics and noise as Strønen injects some heavy boisterous drum sections.
This process is partly repeated on Eight, but here, Strønen is virtually alone as he works up impressively dense layers in the space of just two minutes, as Kannegaard’s contribution is reduced to just a few textures at the back.
While the album never quite reaches such a peak of intense energy again, Seven comes very close to it, the only difference perhaps being the extreme intricacy of the drum section, especially in the second half of the piece, as it responds to Kannegaard’s increasingly abstract performance.
The mood may be more subdued on Two, Five or Six, but the use of heavily distorted Rhodes and often sparse percussions carries a very similar tension, albeit one that relies primarily on somewhat sober exchanges. This is taken to an entirely different level on the closing piece, Nine, where the pair appear to look towards musique concrète as they drift into complete abstraction, their respective inputs summed up in just a few notes or blows. Elsewhere, Strønen opts for more structured and direct lines on Three and Four, but Kannegaard remains firmly on a minimal footing as she hangs discreet bleeps on the former or relies on just one note, repeated to exhaustion, for most of the latter.
This first Monsters And Puppets album, released on newly formed Norwegian imprint Gigafon, is an intriguing piece of work which never fails to surprise.
At its most minimal, it is wonderfully introspective, while at its most intense, it teems with energy, but, whatever the mood, the pair maintain the tension pretty much all the way through and manage create an instant improv classic.»
– Bruno Lasnier, The Milk Factory