Having heard Gerry Mulligan, Lars Gullin, Nick Brignola, Pepper Adams, Serge Chaloff, Ronnie Cuber, Gary Smulyan, Cecil Payne, Jack Nimitz, Claire Daly and so many other superb baritone saxophonists, I never thought I'd encounter another one who'd adrenalize my senses the way they could. And now I stand corrected. Trust me, Sweden's John Högman proves on Reduce Speed
that he deserves at least to be mentioned in the same breath with those acclaimed standard-bearers.
So who is this guy and where did he come from? From Uppsala, actually, and even though Högman has been playing baritone for about two decades he has done so mostly with big bands (Bosse Broberg and others), and this splendid and long-overdue album marks his recorded debut as leader of a smaller group. It's a great way to start a "second career," embracing as it does a dozen blue-chip songs (all but two written by Högman) and wonderful blowing by everyone in the group. In terms of longevity, Högman has recently passed the half-century mark, and to judge from the photos in the booklet, the others in his quartet appear to be about half his age (or younger). But don't let that throw you; Mikael Skoglund is a phenomenal young pianist, while bassist Martin Sjöstedt and drummer Calle Rasmusson aren't more than a small step behind, and they give Högman all the help he needs.
It could be the Swedish influence, but to me, Högman leans more toward Gullin than anyone else in terms of technique and temperament, as he plays with Gullinesque lyricism and emotion albeit with a heavier sound. Like Gullin, Högman is a writer of considerable talent, even though he freely admits that the opening number on Reduce Speed, a tune he shaped to sing to his children when they are sad or in pain, bears a striking resemblance to the standard "Crazy He Calls Me."
Besides his own handsome compositions, Högman performs Billy Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues" and the Irish folk song "Molly Malone," which he fell in love with while hearing it performed by singer/guitarist Josh White on Swedish television. Among Högman's tunes, all of which are impressive, I found "The Teaser," "Let's Play" and "Minor Twist" especially charming.
In an odd twist of fate, Högman switched from alto sax to baritone while on tour with the Gogge Hedrenius Big Band in the mid-'80s when the guest artistnone other than Pepper Adamswas unable to make the gig. Högman sat in for Pepper and has never looked back. If there were ever any doubts that he'd made the right choice, Reduce Speed should quickly lay them to rest. Thomas Högman and the baritone sax were made for each other. As for playing in smaller groups, he really should do that more often.