A veteran of the world jazz scene, French siren Mina Agossi is yet to make her mark on mainstream consiousness. Having decided her path as a professional singer 1992, her career is in perpetual motion, bouyed by a decision to forego wind, brass and keyboards with her distinctive “voice and bass” sound.
She is, then, before Well You Needn’t is even out of its case, a unique prospect. Her collaborators this time include a hard core of Alex Hiele and Ichiro Onoe on bass and drum respectively, their presence carefully calculated to compliment Agossi’s vocal. Like the music, however, the line-up is not rigid: trumpeter Rob Henke makes a rabid appearance now and then, as does Burkina Faso’s Bachir Sonogo and his kamale n’goni harp.
Well You Needn’t, perhaps unusually for an artist of Mina’s bohemian creativity, is a collection of old and new, with an equal blend of original compositions and cover versions (or reinterpretations, as may be more apt for a jazz offering). The latter are, of course, frequently far-removed from their originals. Sometimes it’s to spectacular effect, sometimes not, but it’s always interesting.
Opener Why Don’t You Do Right?, as made popular by Peggy Lee, is very much your typical jazz fare, with Agossi’s near-spoken vocal traipsing lazily with a deep, dark bassline, bare drum work and Henke’s relatively subdued trumpet riffing. Definitely the kind of music smokey, underground bars were built for.
Don’t Look At Me continues the affair in much the same vein, its toned-down tempo affording Mina license to explore the soundscape with slightly more vigour, her moody, sultry style given absolute precedent over anything and everything else. Well You Needn’t!, too, is the Mina Agossi show, the protagonist’s insistence that “it’s over now” nicely complimented by her primadonna posture. There’s some scat, too, so you can tick that particular box.
Drive offers the listener a first, tantalising glimpse at string accompaniment before Bachir Sonogo’s beautiful harp work beckons the scenery westward to Africa. It could prove to be the album’s enduring highpoint, Agossi’s gradual submission to the music lending the journey a well-deserved injection of authenticity (she was, after all, born to French and West African parents – the final few tracks on Well You Needn’t are all in French).
Ghost Of Yesterday welcomes Henke’s unpredictable brass stabs (and some further scatting) back into the fray, while a provocative reworking of Jimi Hendrix‘s Voodoo Chile is the LP’s handle, his inimitable guitar licks replaced with scat. Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but it is clearly not Agossi’s intention to please all the people, all the time.
It’s a trait indicative of Well You Needn’t: it’s a full fat offering from one of the jazz scene’s most highly regarded artists, and a sign of respect from her collaborating team that they are so unquestioningly happy to shape their yin to Mina’s yang (not as dirty as it sounds). This is rewarding but undiluted stuff – you probably already know if you’ll stick with it or not. I wouldn’t not buy it.