Great way to kick off an offbeat jazz vocals CD here: an askew cover of Billy Idol's hit Eyes without a Face, a reading turning the chartbuster inside out, dragging it down from the skies to walk loopily down a country lane in a Bible Belt backwater hosting novo-beatnik Mina Agossi and a klatsch of schoolyard hipsters precociously mutating every stave and measure. The real surprise comes in, however, as the second cut opens up, a song written by Agossi and almost shocking in its way past cool hybridizations, a kind of weird folk amble performed by a female Van Morrison with sultry Joni Mitchell undertones and distant Annette Peacock sympathies. Then the well-famed Archie Shepp drops in to duet with her on his own The Stars are in Your Eyes, doing so in a voice just as unorthodox as the chanteuse's. The esteemed Arch picks up his sax and proceeds to burble it equally bizarrely, and, at this point, I'm gobstruck, as Red Eyes is 180 degrees different from anything I'd expected, and I'm digging it like there's no tomorrow.
Not to overstate things, but Mina Agossi is not unlike a Nina Simone in her daring forays in deconstruction and re-establishment. I can't think of a single person doing quite what she is, and, frankly, she goes places Nina never did, never even thought of, as brilliant as that icon was. Mina also mixed and produced the effort, and her hand shows quite clearly. I don't imagine yer average Quantum Studios functionary would've known quite what to do with this extraordinarily delicious decorous mess. And where she managed to find five musicans as preternaturally bent as she, I'll never be able to guess. The singer covers Jimi's Red House, again tweaking the nose of a hugely influential song, leashing it to her idiom way the hell out of context. Get all the tribute albums you want, no one ever hit it this way. However, listen carefully to all the subtle and not-so-subtle aural experiments she fuses into each track in Red Eyes: that's exactly the kind of out-of-the-box sound Hendrix was trying for in various tracks while he was too briefly alive but which got crushed by the staid engineering personnel infesting the times.
If I don't put this on my year-end Top 20, someone please drop by and kick my ass 'cause there's no way on God's green Earth anyone is going to top it, let alone attempt it, for the remainder of the solar cycle. More, the CD is in a class of its own and, if there's any justice in this increasingly moronic Republican madhouse of ours, it will be studied by progressive musicians looking for new fields to frolic in. Ah, but then there's the kicker: Red Eyes is being released on the Naive label (distributed by Naxos). Naive?!?! Puh-leeze! Ms. Agossi is so beyond naive that Roget himself would be hard put to find the right antonym…but not me. The correct adjective is 'transcendent'—but with a grin, a wink, and a brain-stunning leap forward.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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