The harmonica may be the Rodney Dangerfield of jazz instruments. The first name normally associated with the instrument is the legendary Toots Thielemans and then perhaps the iconic Stevie Wonder who doesn't exactly find a niche in the jazz genre on a regular basis. Hendrick Meurkens and Gregoire Maret are the newest shooters making some noise but one of the better stealth musicians on the scene making his mark is Adam Glasser who releases Mzansi on August 14th 2012.
Mzansi is billed in the Johannesburg press as capturing the essence of South African jazz which may account for the somewhat stealth-like nature of Glasser's name recognition which is a shame. Local brick and mortar record stores and perhaps some on line sources may well have placed Glasser in the world music section when in fact it transcends the more traditional and fuses a energetic fire that is the South African jazz heritage. Glasser seems to have the same pet peeve that I do when it comes to confronting perceptions of where and how the industry attempts to label what they consider to be their product in an effort to make a dollar. London eventually became the mecca for South African jazz forced into exile and Glasser has been able to build a bridge between the two countries by enlisting the aid of such incredible talent as tenor saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu and bassist Herbie Tsoaeli.
There are two major points of harmonious union on Mzansi with one of course the personal South African jazz persona of Glasser and the impeccable supporting cast. The second point of unification found is Glasser's uncanny virtuosity of working at a chromatic harmonic level that only a handful of players have been able to reach over the last fifty years. Glasser has become the master of his own sound and own identity and this is the sign of a true artist and an indelible mark of greatness that only the special few mentioned earlier have obtained.
Opening with "Radebe" there is a wonderful all most infectious contemporary vibe as fans in the United States would consider it but this sound is like a golden thread of a sonic tapestry that is carefully woven into the South African jazz wall of sound. This is where both Glasser and the band don't transcend barriers they smash through them creating a fresh vibrant experience all their own. "Stay Cool" is a warm blues infused gem with the flash fried funk of a killer running bass line running under Glasser's lyrical direction of keen sense of harmonic thought. While musical frames of reference can be dangerous, this tune is somewhat reminiscent of what could easily pass for an outtake of the classic Paul Simon Graceland release. Pure flavor...An virtually flawless ebb and flow finds the release closing with "Ekhaya" with amazing texture continuing with the piano work of Afrika Mkhize and the spot on harmony vocals more closely associated with more traditional South African music. The lyrical cohesion and harmonic direction displayed by this rather large ensemble is simply stunning.
Adam Glasser has created an amazing hybridization of jazz that actually is forged from the influence of three different continents. Glasser is indeed the future of jazz harmonica and this debut release from Sunnyside simply does not miss a beat.
5 Stars and a name to remember!
Tracks: Radebe; Blues For Zim; Mfiliseni; Stay Cool; Lesson Number 1; Mzansi; Pasop; Blues For A Hip King; Mr. Paljas' Goema; Lakutshonilanga; Silika; Kodekubenini; Ekhaya.
Personnel: Adam Glasser: harmonica, keyboards; Pinise Saul: vocals; David Serame: vocal & rap; Mpumi Dhlamini: vocals, keyboards; Khaya Mahlangu: tenor saxophone; Sydney Mavundla: trumpet; Jason Yarde: soprano saxophone; Cameron Ward: guitar; Afrika Mkhize: piano; Fana Zulu: bass; Herbie Tsoaeli: bass; Steve Watts: bass; Alec Dankworth: bass; Basi Mahlasela: percussion; Lee-Roy Sauls: drums; Rob Watson: drums; Frank Tontoh: drums.