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Full Focus

Mark Pringle


From the album Book Of Haikus



'Full Focus' is a series where musicians and others discuss a jazz track or tracks in detail. The idea is that you are able to listen to the track that is discussed as you read about it.


Mark Pringle


This month, pianist Mark Pringle writes about the track GMLN from his recent album Book Of Haikus.

Pianist Mark Pringle, his brother and sister all began learning musical instruments from an early age – Mark, clarinet and piano; his sister piano and singing; and his brother piano and flute. ‘I was six when I took up the piano,’ Mark recalls. ‘I studied classical music but when I was about ten, my brother showed me the Blues scale and I fell in love with jazz and improvisation.' Mark went on to Birmingham Conservatoire of Music where he studied with pianists Liam Noble and John Turville and took part in workshops with musicians such as Greg Osby and Dave Holland. He also studied separately with another eminent jazz pianist, John Law. His first album This Is was a duet collection with John.

In December 2014, Mark received the Peter Whittingham Award and used the £4,000 from the award to develop work by his trio, and also a 12-piece ensemble of horns, strings and rhythm section called A Moveable Feast. Now based in Germany, Mark works internationally as leader and sideman in diverse artistic projects, notably his large ensemble A Moveable Feast, Hayden Prosser’s Tether, a freely improvised solo project, Cansu Tanrikulu’s A Priori and numerous collaborative settings Europe-wide. He has also performed classical works including Messiaen’s Quartet For The End of Time.


Book Of Haikus album


Book of Haikus is Mark's latest album, released in December 2019. It is an absorbing, rewarding album where the music grows creatively from simple ideas.


'Haiku' is described as 'a form of poetry that focuses on a brief moment in time, and a sense of sudden illumination or enlightenment. A haiku is usually composed of seventeen syllables in three short lines. The first line often contains five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and the third line five syllables.' As Mark says below, he was inspired by the Haikus of American 'Beat Poet' Jack Kerouac. Kerouac said: '"The American Haiku is not Jack Kerouacexactly the Japanese Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don't think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again...bursting to pop. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella'.


Jack Kerouac


One of Kerouac's haikus that inspires a track on Mark's album reads:

It is raining -
I guess I’ll make
Some tea 

Click here to listen to a recording of Raining / Tea.






But for this article, Mark has chosen to write about another track from the album, GMLN.

Listen quietly
and you can hear poetry
in gamelan music





The album  ‘Book of Haikus’ marks the end of two years studying around Europe between 2015 and 2017 - a highly formative time for me, filled with important experiences and encounters with many extraordinary people. It went on to shape the course of my life in an unprecedented and positive way, for which I am very grateful.

The project was born of a desire to bring together all my favourite musicians from each of the cities I had lived in. Jonas Engel (saxophone) from Copenhagen, Tristan Renfrow (drums) from Amsterdam, Arne Braun (guitar) and James Banner (double bass) from Berlin. Over one weekend in 2017 we met and intensively rehearsed the music, performed and recorded, mostly in single takes. This put us on our toes, and I think the music comes across the better for that. Some spontaneous reactions to unplanned musical events have become my personal highlights of the album (more on that later), and I listen back fondly remembering making music with four individuals playing with such freedom, creativity and togetherness.

Most of the compositions took inspiration from haiku poems by American author Jack Kerouac (hence Book of Haikus), but the piece GMLN is one exception… it merely grew out of a simple motif, the one you hear at around the 1 minute mark. In fact, apart from the background chords you hear at 2:35, everything is derived from that motif. From memory I simply stumbled across it one day at the piano and wrote it down in a notebook, then much later began shaping it into a longer composition.

Tristan Renfrow




The track starts with a drum introduction from Tristan. There are no instructions; it’s just open improvisation. On this take he was playing around with some small gongs and objects, alluding to the title quite well - GMLN implies gamelan, a traditional Indonesian music played by a large ensemble of gongs and other percussion. The connection is not much deeper than that; it’s just something I was inspired by at the time. The other instruments come in and introduce the opening motif in fragments (this is also improvised), gradually arriving at it in full around 1:00.




Jonas Engel




At 1:21 we move on to another section. What you’re actually hearing is the original motif in reverse (with a couple of small alterations to the rhythm and octave). At 1:32 the saxophone introduces what feels like the main theme. This is an inversion of the original motif. Inversion in this context means turning something upside down - if you were to put a mirror up to the music paper (figuratively speaking) exactly halfway between an octave of E to E (the motif begins on E) you would see the notes reflected in new positions on the paper around this axis point. This is what the saxophone is playing, a mirror image of the first motif.

When the second line comes in at 1:56 this is the same inverted motif but now also in reverse! 2:19 then presents the original and reversed versions of the motif with several octave and rhythmic displacements. These are composition techniques developed by serialist composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. By using the retrograde (reverse), inversion (upside down) and retrograde inversion (upside down and backwards) you can generate a lot of interesting material from a single idea.





Arne Braun



Now at 2:35 the real fun begins… an open improvising space with a few background chords from the guitar. This was planned as a bass solo, however Tristan, always one for inspired in-the-moment decisions, turns it into more of a sparring session between the bass and drums. I love how this turned out. If you were to give a lesson on how best to accompany a bass solo on the drums this might be the opposite of what you would advise! But I love it all the more for that; it’s pure instinctive, reactive music making.

The main motif returns at 4:12 with a space for the saxophone to improvise, before he adds the motif in retrograde on top, and at 5:02 we close out the piece with the same material from 2:19.

One last brilliant but unintended bit of improvising from the drums - the piece should end at 5:19 with the final note, all together. Tristan misses this ending. My thoughts at the time were “Oh no, that might have been a nice take but we’ll have to do it again!”. Instead of stopping however, Tristan decides to keep going and play another 40 seconds of solo drums, kind of disassembling his ideas in a really beautiful way. It ends when one of his gongs falls on the floor. I seem to remember containing laughter for this whole section, and the end of the track is cut just before we all start laughing. Listening back later it became one of my favourite moments of the album.






Click here for details and samples of the album Book Of Haikus. Click here for Mark Pringle's website and gig dates.


Mark Pringle



© Sandy Brown Jazz 2020

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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Gebhard Ullmann - Ta Lam
Matthew Read Trio - Burke And Hare
Alan Benzie Trio - Sunken Ruins
Dario Napoli - Masks

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