Adam Glasser’s playful yet plaintive style makes him one of the harmonica’s new masters. As debonair as Toots Thielemans, as soulful as Stevie Wonder and as romantic as Gregoire Maret, he’s also distinctively pungent. As a pianist, Glasser is percussive and rhythmic, driving most of the 13 tracks on his second Sunnyside album, originally released last year on the South African Sheer Sound label.
As a composer, too, Glasser shines. The title track is a melodic jewel, its voicing sparkling, its prancing gait a pleasure. The bewitching tune demonstrates Glasser’s love of melody and mastery of the small jazz unit.
Other tunes, like the dappled, staggered “Silika” and “Mfiliseni,” the latter a tribute to guitarist Mfiliseni Magubane, demonstrate Glasser’s command of counterpoint and texture. “Silika” is richly grained, its midsection a sonic pool bracketed by harder, more martial motifs. “Mfiliseni” stars longtime collaborator Pinise Saul, a Zulu woman with a heartfelt, gritty voice. (Magubane and Saul, like Glasser South Africans who grew up under apartheid and found their musical voice in exile in London, worked with Glasser at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival this past spring.)
Glasser works with great musicians, from the soulful Saul to David Serame, the sweet-voiced rapper who makes “Lesson No. 1” so amusing. “Ekhaya,” a collaboration with keyboardist-vocalist Mpumi Dhlamini, is anthemic and stirring; Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Blues for a Hip King” speaks to an earlier tradition. No matter the style, Mzansi feels authentic. It’s the upbeat, earthy work of a musician singularly capable of expanding the jazz vernacular.