Soft Power ‘Brink Of Extinction’ LP (RR GEMS) 5/5

Helsinki based sextet Soft Power, release their second long-player, Brink Of Extinction. Since their self-released debut, “In a Brown Study”, drummer Mikael Jurmu has augmented the line up of Antti Vauhkonen (alto saxophonist/flautist), Staffan Södergård (Rhodes piano), Otto Kyrklund (guitar), Iiri Tulkki (bass) and Lauri Vertanen (tenor sax). This coincides with an evolution to a jazzier and groovier sound hinted at on the more guitar-based psych of their first.

“Brink Of Extinction” is a concept album based on the human threat to the biodiversity of our planet. Indeed, the group pic on the sleeve sees the band in silhouette, teetering on a precipice. It’s heavy stuff! But there’s a positivity in the message and music mirroring much of the recent activism of the climate movement.

The sparse, tentative piano chords of “Awakening” segues into “Brink Of Extinction”, a track built on a groovy rhythm punctuated by twangy guitar and Fender Rhodes trills with swoops of melody from the twin saxes. It succumbs to a dreamy backdrop for the recital of a poem, in Finnish, by Juhana Henrik Harju before a slight return with flute and electric piano solos. This is reminiscent of David Axelrod with its lush but quirky arrangement and cinematic feel. The laid-back mellowness of “Orange Red Yellow” is buoyant on a smooth and consistent bass line followed by the flute and saxophone wash and drips with late 1960s melancholy. All this groove-laden goodness is interrupted by the jerky jazz dance of “The Water Rooms” which breaks into joyous scat-guitar.

The movie soundtrack feel continues on the moody “New Beginning” where piano and horns weave around the walking bassline until solo electric piano sings to the ambient sea waves. With a cheeky nod towards “Naima”, the swagger of the sax, flute, distorted guitar and Fender Rhodes in the epic, “Window Of Opportunity” switches a bustling jazz dance rhythm with improvisations from flute and guitar. The track breaks down to pensive electric piano melody lines which are slowly built on by synthesiser, saxophone and flute. This is a killer track that, for me, hits that often elusive sweet spot between jazz, rock and folk like late-era Traffic could. After its abrupt ending, there’s the brief brass fog of “Final Blow”.

Is this rock or jazz? Mikael Jurmu describes their music as rock with strong ingredients of jazz and free expression which I think this is fair enough. They have clearly identified the free form elements that both psychedelic rock and jazz share and delivered them with a performance that is subtle and organic. The movable sonic textures of the twin saxophones and flutes are beautiful and ethereal. The effect is emotional and exhilarating. I just can’t stop listening to it!

Kevin Ward