Mina Agossi: Red Eyes

To borrow a line from Cole Porter, is it an earthquake or simply a shock? With Mina Agossi it’s difficult to tell. Devotees of the French-Beninese vocalist’s Patty Waters-esque wailing worship at her deconstructionist throne. Those who prefer their jazz vocals straight up are often gobsmacked by her on-the-rocks adventurism. Love her or hate her, there’s no arguing her outrĂ© gumption. The ledge has yet to be built that’s too high or too slippery for her to perch upon, or crash-land from.

Agossi wades in with unexpected restraint, transforming Billy Idol’s ethereal “Eyes Without a Face” into a bracingly sensual excursion, then slowing to a crawl for her own onomatopoeic “The Crying Girl.” But those tracks are merely warm-ups for the trademark ingenuity that follows, including a techno-pop-meets-Philly-soul treatment of “Why Did You Do It?”; her twangy, snore-propelled “Sleep Babe Blues”; the loping, multitracked bleat of “Oh You!”; and the sinister, voodoo-infected stalk of the title track.

Legend has it that Agossi got her start while studying in France, when a saxophonist offered her 500 francs to sing. All these years later, she has one of the all-time best tenormen, Archie Shepp, joining her on two tracks. On his “The Stars Are in Your Eyes,” Shepp contributes a raggedy solo and teams with Agossi for an ill-advised vocal duet, his bluesy growl reduced to a croaky shadow of its former magnificence. Far more satisfying are his vibrant contributions to Agossi’s free-for-all transformation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House.”