Recorded in October 2001, Mina Agossi’s E-Z Pass to Brooklyn has already been making the rounds in the Francophone world for some time, where at least one reviewer has lauded the effort as “incroyable” and even goes on to say, “Chaque morceau est une surprise.” Another reviewer favourably chimes in, “jamais vous n’avez entendu quelque chose comme E-Z Pass to Brooklyn.”
“Incredible.” “Each song is a surprise.” “You’ve never heard anything like E-Z Pass to Brooklyn.” Bold statements, all of these. But Agossi herself is bold, feisty. Along with bassist Alexandre Hièle and drummer Bertrand Perrin, she subjects Ellington’s “Caravan” to an abrasive, exotic, Moroccan treatment; twists Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” into a hushed, spoken, hip-hop number; and even takes on Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” amid versions of her own compositions, such as “Cyber Reality” and “Eat It” (not a Weird Al Yankovic cover, tempting as that might be to imagine). I suppose, however, that these small selections of critical commentary could be read with a literal mind, presenting us with a much more equivocal meaning, one that might come closer to a proper appraisal of Agossi’s first credited solo album (her fourth overall).
A truism: boldness does not good art make; nor is it synonymous with beauty. Chris Ofili’s portrait of the Madonna in elephant dung may radically recast subject matter more closely associated with Giotto, but that doesn’t mean I would prefer to hang Ofili’s work on my wall at home. In a musical parallel, we have Agossi’s assemblage of styles, none of which—or the many, many combinations thereof—ever rises above the boisterous and confrontational, or aspires to the various manifestations of beauty found in Ella, Lady Day, Dianne Reeves, or Dianna Krall. As if anticipating that "female jazz vocal" might be too confining a category for Agossi, one German website suggested comparisons with Björk. While this does work in spots, it still isn’t quite accurate. Agossi lacks the Icelandic diva’s vocal dynamics and artistic flair; and, furthermore, for all her love of fusion and experimentation, Björk never eschews the indie pop appeal that first brought her notoriety. Little of that same kind of appeal is to be found here.
None of this is intended to argue that Agossi should be written off. Far from it. It’s possible that her next outing will see her better suited to the material, both original and appropriated, and vice versa. In this way the boldness might become less of a gimmick and more of a real, thoughtful accent to the music. For all its artistic bravado, E-Z Pass to Brooklyn is so passionate as to be melodramatic, so enthusiastic as to be wearisome, so ambitious as to be amateurish.