John Högman, who played only baritone sax on his debut as leader (Reduce Speed
, Sittel 2004), spreads his wings wider on Frozen Dreams
, seeking to evade monotony by mixing things up. Högman not only plays soprano, tenor and baritone but lends a hand on keyboards, rhythm guitar and "rhythm programming. He also varies the size and makeup of his group, uses special effects to underline his concepts, and generally places rhythm in the forefront.
As Högman wrote and arranged everything, its success or failure rests squarely on his shoulders. His supple compositionswith a few exceptions, more tone poems than standard jazz fareare melodious and pleasing, with the emphasis more toward group interplay than loose improvisation. But when Högman chooses to blow, as on "Another Lonely Friday, "The Crawfish Party, "Pretentious!Moi? or "Easy Listening, he diplays the sort of intrepid artistry that one usually associates with a Stan Getz or Sonny Rollins.
Longtime friend Bosse Broberg's muted trumpet sets the emotional compass on "Lonely Friday and "Frozen Dreams, the last inspired, writes Högman, "not only [by] all the unfulfilled individuals I have met during my life but even also from some of my own dreams that never materialized. Two of Högman's songs, the picturesque "In the Swamp and evocative "Mardi Gras, are dedicated to the city of New Orleans, where he performed with the Swedish group Kustbandet in 2003. "Crawfish Party, which would seem to fit the same profile, was actually motivated, Högman writes, by a soiree in the Swedish province of Sörmland.
Högman plays soprano sax only on "The Forest, baritone on "Frozen Dreams and "Mardi Gras, tenor the rest of the way. A violinist, Knapp Britta Pettersson, is listed on "Lament (which is not the well-known J.J. Johnson tune) but must have been overdubbed to represent a larger string section. Guitarist Thomas Arnesen is prominent on half a dozen tracks, while the talented Mikael Skoglund triples on piano, Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ. Bassist Martin Sjöstedt and drummer Calle Rasmusson are hard-working standouts, as are Björn Sjödin and Christer Ekhé who sit in for Rasmusson on "Mardi Gras.
As I wrote when reviewing Reduce Speed, "Högman is a writer of considerable talent, and he has done nothing here to tarnish that appraisal. He's also a marvelous player on any and all woodwinds, though I'd have preferred to hear more of his warm Lars Gullin-influenced baritone. Frozen Dreams isn't your average garden-variety blowing session, but the more one listens the better it sounds, thanks to Högman's unremitting creativity and the diligence of his capable colleagues.