“So, to sum up, if you like to challenge yourself and you are prepared to move out of your comfort zone when it comes to your listening pleasure, you really ought to let If Not If into your life. It may not be for you but, if we didn’t challenge ourselves and expand our horizons, we’d still be lighting fires with sticks and living in the stone age!”
That was my conclusion of the two EP releases from Graeme Ginsberg, released under the artist name of If Not If, in late 2021. It was music that really made you think and was all the better for it. Fast forward to June, 2023 and Graeme released the follow up, ‘Structure’ and I was lucky enough to be asked if I would like to review it.
Structure is a collection of 12 instrumental tracks — progressive rock,
with classic rock and jazz-rock fusion in the mix. There are nods to artists such as Pink Floyd, Phish, Led Zeppelin, Yes, King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny and John Scofield, but essentially this is a refreshing collection of original pieces that are as inventive and uncompromising as they are familiar.
Graeme thought that this album would be more accessible than the previous two EP’s and I have to agree with him, only to a point though. What I loved about the first two releases, that dissonance and originality, is still there, sometimes front and centre and sometimes bubbling under the surface but the creativity has been ramped up a notch.
Illusion Part – II: Start is all bluesy, hard edged and very reminiscent of Robert Fripp but played over a 70’s rock riff that Jimmy Page would have been proud of, it’s a superb track that has its origins way back in 2001. This segues immediately into Illusion – Part II: Daydream which has a more laid back feel, almost like a psychedelic Beach Boys meeting Andy Summers in a very weird dream! The flowing, spaced out solo is genius and there’s a definite feel of Rush/Genesis in there too. Illusion – Part III: Second Wind ramps up the psychedelia considerably with echoing, intermittent guitars firing shots across a Sci-Fi backdrop, it’s all incredibly cool and stylish without trying to be, if that makes any sense. The Illusion Suite concludes with Illusion – Part IV: The Looking Glass, a piece of music that could be the ever so classy soundtrack to a really hip art school movie. It has a calming effect, the elegant bass pedal and polished guitar are just so smooth and edifying, the synths an ode to the best of 70’s pastoral prog and there’s another fine guitar solo that has you nodding in appreciation. This is intellectual music that just leaves you totally relaxed and enjoying every note, perfectly composed and beautifully delivered.
Curious Architecture could see Steven Wilson pricking up his ears with its early Porcupine Tree connotations and its serious, knowing edge. There’s a slow, brooding energy to the track, a pulsating, industrial rhythm that draws you in, it’s all deliciously dark and a delight to listen to, especially when the wonderfully fluid guitar kicks in. With the ‘Hard Boiled’ trilogy, Graeme was collaborating with a superb, well-known jazz-rock fusion bassist, but he had a tragedy in the family and couldn’t complete the very complex parts. Graeme was thinking of delaying release of the album but took the position to leave it as is, first because he thinks “Part II” is great and full-sounding as it is with the guitars and keyboard, and then also he thinks “Part I” and “Part III” stand up well as an intense guitar-drum duet, with strong melodic content without the bass. Hard Boiled – Part I: Fusion In A Bar is all smoky, bar room, jazz to begin with before everything goes left field with some rather cutting prog fusion breaking loose, it’s all very intense and in your face and I love it. Hard Boiled – Part II: Progression is an intense, mysterious listen with a funky guitar riff that has your feet itching to dance, add in the discordant keyboards and guitar solo that could only have come out of a feverish mind and you have the epitome of experimental jazz/prog fusion. I have to say it again, it’s not for everyone but, if you get it, you will absolutely love it. The intensity of the ‘Hard Boiled’ trilogy is broken up by Time On My Hands, an intricate solo guitar piece very reminiscent of Pat Metheny and one that has the feel of clever improvisation to it. Hard Boiled Part III: Conclusion is as intense as the other two parts, the guitar almost talking to you while the drums pound out a complex rhythm, it’s all quite intoxicating in its own way.
Vegas Nights is a perky, funky jazz/fusion piece that builds layers of earthy creativity into a spontaneous feeling piece of music that feels really alive and crackling with energy. That Reminds Me has fast paced, percussive opening that leads into a vibrant bass line and staccato guitar note to deliver something that wouldn’t be amiss at a recent King Crimson gig when the band just decide to improvise and have fun. The album closes with the wonderfully nostalgic feeling Weightless (Somewhere On The Road To Recovery), a short, contemplative piece of wistful synth and piano that leaves you in a thoughtful, uplifting mood.
We spend too much time rushing around in modern life, it doesn’t give us time to stop and appreciate our lives and surroundings. What ‘Structure’ shows us is that, if you just sit down and give yourself time to listen to evocative, thoughtful and sometimes challenging music, you will appreciate and enjoy it much, much more. Graeme Ginsberg, with his If Not If project, creates music that challenges us in many ways, challenges our conceptions of music even and, to me, that is a rare and wonderful thing because, when you come out of the other side, you realise your life may be just a little bit better for the experience.
Released 9th June, 2023.
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