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London, 2018 

American composer Philip Daniel (AKA Philip D. Zach) returns with a new album, This Tree Is Made for Climbing, released on July 24, 2018. Following Gradient—recorded less than a year before—Daniel’s new project is a collaboration with Nashville based violinist and producer Shawn Williams, who wrote arrangements for strings over his solo piano pieces. Similarly to Gradient, This Tree Is Made for Climbing allows Daniel to approach themes such as relationships, society and spirituality. However this release aims at being a lot more positive, uplifting and full of hope than its predecessor.


The introductory piece, Juniper, and its open triads and signature use of perpetual rhythm à la Lybomyr Melnyk convey the cinematic tone of the album. William’s strings—at times lyrical, and at others suspenseful—lift the piece up and help to convey a feeling of positivity right from the start. For Her, the longest of all the tracks of This Tree Is Made for Climbing, is based on a seven note melody, that similarly to Juniper uses change of range to add contrast and structure to the piece. The string arrangement works hand in hand with the piano, sometimes echoing its main melody, sometimes adding support and brightness to it, but also some depth and heaviness. As the piece progresses, it becomes calmer and calmer as well as sparser, sampling the main melody over and over. Unhearted bases its chord progression on a selection of Glassian chords. A calmer and perhaps sadder piece for the album, it retains its contemplative quality. The strings are a lot more dramatic, and naturally I can hear the influence of Max Richter in William's string writing. Stars So Bright follows and explores furthermore rolled open chords voicing. The piece has been written in a triptych form, giving the melody to the lowest part of the piano and the highest part of the strings, and the piano accompaniment sitting in the middle. A contrasting section gives more space for string lyricism. Cascade—the companion to Unheated—is a minor based piece, perhaps the most romantic of the pieces, however in my opinion the less memorable of all the pieces of This Tree Is Made for Climbing. The title track, which closes the album, appears to be the most diverse, rhythmically and emotionally. It is dedicated—with Juniper—to Daniel’s nieces. Although still based on his perpetual rhythm technique, the main melody seems to be richer, especially with the support of the string arrangement. The impression of conversation between the instruments is emphasised through the passing of the melody in different ranges and instruments.


In Gradient—and through Liquid Mirror, a piano improvisation that had evolved into a fully written piano piece—Daniel had given us a snapshot of his collaborative talent. With This Tree Is Made for Climbing—although written in a two step process, piano then strings—Daniel, and Williams, brilliantly demonstrate how instruments communicate together, and how they complement each other. Gradient had a narrative that brought the listener into a melancholic journey, on the contrary Daniel’s latest release provides us with musical moments, full of hope and joy. Once again, Daniel brightly combines strong musical talent with emotion, and a constant search for musical beauty.

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