Icons [Composition No. 41]

Although Icons was written in 1997 for performance by IST, the starting point of the piece had been lurking in the back of my mind for some years. At its heart lies an objet trouvé which thrust itself forward as I prepared for this composition. More specifically, at the beginning of some jazz 'real' books there is laid out a table attempting to explain the meaning of the often mystifying chord symbol abbreviations commonly utilised in jazz notation. These 'icons' can be as arcane and inexplicable (even to jazz musicians) as anything found in comparable ancient religions. I had often played through these chord tables, marvelling at their rigorous beauty; when (in 1997) Rhodri expressed his desire to "learn to play jazz" it seemed only appropriate to immerse him (and us) in this condensed history of jazz harmony. Thus Icons consists of the harp slowly and methodically playing 77 jazz chords based in the key of C, from Cmaj to C+(#9b9) and beyond; this forms the basis for improvisation from the 'cello and bass, with occasional hints of shared melody statement. But far from being 'jazz', this piece forms an ecstatic meditation on tonal and timbral relationships; music of such simplicity could only be successfully realised by exceptional players, and I hereby extend my gratitude to Rhodri and Mark for their assistance.

This piece was written for IST and was given its first performance by them in September 1997

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