-Lo-fi rock meets electronica and free improvisation-
Monsters and puppets is a new lineup who got together after being asked to play a duo set at Molde jazz festival in Norway. It worked out so well that the duo went straight into the studio for a few days and recorded an album of freely improvised music.
Maria and Thomas have been playing together since 1997 and their communication is very strong. The whole recording is made without any plans, sketches or prearranged framework; all is freely improvised with no overdubs.
The duo draw influences from rock, noise, electronica to free- jazz and is bound together by a strong nerve and close communication.
Their self-titled debut comes across as a concept-album and moves about in a strongly visual soundscape, where Monsters and Puppets conjures up atmospheres that just as easily directs your thoughts towards David Lynch as to the underlying musical structures.
Maria Kannegaard is one of the leading Norwegian piano and el- piano players as well as jazz composers. She has a distinguished, easily recognizable dark voice and is heard in her own trio Maria Kannegaard trio (Jazzland Records), Maryland (with Per Jørgensen), duo with Siri Gjære and her synthband Billy Fy with Ingrid Lode.
Thomas Strønen is one of Norway´s most prolific drummers, known from his involvement with Humcrush (with Ståle Storløkken), Meadow (with John Taylor),Pohlitz (solo) and his ECM recording band Food. (with Iain Ballamy). Thomas also plays in Maria Kannegaard Trio. He is a melodic type of drummer and focuses on large forms, sounds and communication, playing both acoustic music and a set up with live electronics such as samplers and sound effects.
«Monsters and Puppets features two prolific and versatile musicians in the Norwegian jazz scene— keyboardist Maria Kannegaard and drummer Thomas Strønen, both of whom have been playing together since 1997 in the Kannegaard Trio, with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and, recently, in vocalist Ingrid Lode’s outfit Billy Fy. This new duo was formed after the two musicians were asked to play a duo set at Molde Jazz Festival. A few days later this completely freely improvised session was recorded.
Monsters and Puppets emphasize this duo’s tendency to create abstract electronic textures that feature the broad musical vocabularies of both musicians—drawing not only from their experience in improvised jazz, but also referencing noise, electronica and post rock. These nine short pieces are processed, distorted, sustained and sampled in various attitudes in order to create richer sonic layers.
Some of the pieces induce a certain dark atmosphere, such as the slow, dark and intense “Two” and “Five” and the dense and mysterious “Seven,” all cinematic in character, easily capable of creating a tense atmosphere for a Scandinavian thriller soundtrack. “Six” is a more minimalist soundscape, as is “Nine,” which introduce an almost progressive rock symphonic element, but both suggest a cinematic narrative. “Three” is structured on a repetitive rhythm that sounds like a twisted psychedelic and spacey Gamelan orchestra. On “Four,” the duo offers almost dance-like electronic, while and on “Eight” a noisy, intense texture, based loosely on a distorted rhythm, is formed.
The musical affinity between Kannegaard and Strønen, their shared experience and always intriguing creativity turn this session into an intense musical document.»
– Eyal Hareuveni, All About Jazz
«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
«Through bands like Maria Kannegaard Trio and Live Maria Band, Kannegaard and Thomas Strønen has been playing together since 1997. Kannegaard has been hailed as one of the best pianists in the world (on the somewhat uncritical world wide web), and even though this might be taking things a little bit too far, there can be no doubt that her humoristicly edgy style, melodic ingenuity and laidback view of the world has given me a number of fantastic listening experiences. Especially the beforementioned Trio (with the albums «Quiet Joy» and «Camel Walk») and the quartet Maryland with Håkon Kornstad, Ole Morten Vågan and Håkon Mjåset Johansen stands out as highlights in the catalog of Jazzland Records, as well as in the newer norwegian jazz history. The sad thing is that her modesty creates a sort of bubble around her and her piano. Inside it, she´s truly a master, but her fantastic music has so far reached too few listeners.
I´m afraid I don´t believe «Monsters and Puppets» will be the tipping-point that brings Maria Kannegaard to the masses. This fully-improvised album is far too dark and inaccessible for listless jazz-listeners (who unfortunately are quite a few). To the brighter minds in Jazz-Norway however, I have only this to say: You know what to do!
«Monsters and Puppets» is a crystal clear break in Strønen and Kannegaards production up until now, even if a comparison to Strønen and Ståle Storløkkens Humcrush can be considered natural. The forty minutes are characterized by processed drums and electric piano, adjusted with an array of effects that conceals the origin of the sounds. It´s dark, strong and sounds as fresh as a newly poured cup of espresso. Even with a fully improvised basis we can sense, as is often the case with skilled improvisers, transitional themes that are cultivated. The gloomy improsoundscapes are taken right out of The Halls of the Mountain King, completely the opposite of Kannegaard´s previously harmonic and rhythmically based music. Surprising, fresh, interesting soundscapes and tight and organic interplay. Powerful!
– Svein Magnus Furu, Jazznytt
«On her way to Kongsberg Jazzfestival where Maria Kannegaard Trio and guests will be playing her «awardwinner» concert this thursday, pianist Kannegaard and drummer Thomas Strønen have released their first album as the duo Monsters and Puppets. Launched as «lo-fi rock meets electronica and free improvisation». The recording is done in the studio without any planning in advance, but Strønen/Kannegaard have been playing together since 1997, and with that kind of history, it´s easy to conjure up natural interplay, no matter what instruments they equip themselves with. In this case it´s Fender Rhodes, drums and electronica that takes us on a trumendous musical monster-ride, increasing in strength through nine numbered tracks and thirtyeight minutes. The duo arose after a successful spontaneous concert in Molde, and Kannegard/Strønen does deliver, without the need for monstermasts.»
– Roald Helgheim, Dagsavisen
«From the jazzscene evolving around Trondheim comes Monsters and Puppets, a duo and an album where Maria Kannegaard and Thomas Strønen are both handling electronic effects in addition to their respective main instruments, fender rhodes and drums.
The freely improvised music is an intensive collage in nine parts/lapses where noise, distorted industrial sounds, pulses, rhythmical patterns, fragmented melodies and -lines and cascades of drumhits socialize in different tempoes and moods.
Like in all freejazz/impro, this is music that reveals itself only after listening to it with so much concentration that a sense of logic and order emerges from what meets the ear. Strønen is also the drummer of Maria Kannegaard Trio, and the pair knows eachothers musical behaviour well enough to communicate seamlessly with nuance and with sonic exitement in this partly abstract soundscape where the energy is the big common denominator and no sound necessarily what is first appears to be.»
– Terje Mosnes, Dagbladet
(5 out of 6)
Maria Kannegaard and Thomas Strønen knows each other well. That´s easy to hear.
Pianist – in this case the electric version – and electronicist Maria Kannegaard and drummer and electronicist Thomas Strønen has known each other since they met up at the famous jazzline in Trondheim in the mid nineties. Since then they´ve often collaborated, much of it in trioes with either Mats Eilertsen or Ole Morten Vågan handling the bass, but in connection with Moldejazz a couple of years ago they were given the opportunity to explore the duoformat as well. They´ve continued this format with the release they´ve named “Monsters and Puppets”.
Monsters and Puppets brought along the energy straight from the concert in Molde and in to the studio, where they´ve managed to continue the magic from their debut concert in every way. What we´re faced with here, like in Molde, is nine spontaneously conceived soundscapes inspired by everything ranging from rock, noise, electronica and free jazz. Which all together adds up to a totally unique journey.
The communication between the two resides at a superior level. They know they can embark on excursions that noone else would dare follow them on, but here we find empathy and trust of the rare kind that leads to musical conversations we´ve never been exposed to earlier, and which in all likelyhood we´ll never be exposed to again.
Maria Kannegaard and Thomas Strønen are two highly uncompromising musicians. “Monsters and Puppets” stands as another shining example of this fact. Cool, different and highly personal.”
– Tor Hammerø, side 2