Here's another gem first heard during one of the late '80s table tennis matches described in my last post. Gazolinn' represents the high-water mark of my fondness for zouk, the Antillean dance music blending influences from Haiti (compas), Europe and the folk traditions (biguine and cadence) of Guadeloupe and Martinique, both islands in the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles archipelago. Indeed, today's entry, Gazolinn', is best described as the spawn of an assignation between Kraftwerk and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band near a beach-side disco in Martinique.
Zouk was another exotic music genre seemingly destined to take over the world in the '80s. Within the Francophone diaspora, you could say that it did just that for a time. Soukous, the brilliant dance music featured in NCIP's introductory posts, was nearly flattened outright by the one-two punch of MIDI sequencing and zouk. Though garnering huge audiences in Europe and Africa, zouk made next to no impact in the West, if possible even less than its immediate predecessors, Nigerian juju and soukous from the Congo (via Paris). As the decade closed, zouk's non-impact became an inadvertent barometer of America's xenophobia, mounting then and intensifying through the present day.
Pier' Rosier came to zouk from a grounding in chouval bwa, the rhythm-weighted traditional form of Martinique, a music associated with carnival. In the early '80s, Rosier formed the band Gasoline and when that dissolved, owing to those oft-cited creative differences, he assembled Gazolinn'. This new iteration of his band turned then-new MIDI and sampling technologies to its own great advantage, with Rosier handling the lion's share of programming and arranging. As with Les Quatre Étoiles' recordings from the same period, Gazolinn' struck a workable alliance between horn charts that jabbed and feigned, creole lyrics delivered by full ensemble chant or sultry cabaret purr atop computer-driven rhythms moving at full clip, augmented with busy hand percussion. I found myself enjoying instruments I usually loathed (electric piano at its lounge-iest, or the deadly squealing faux-roadhouse sax that must be Lorne Michaels' favorite instrument), further testament to the enduring greatness of Gazolinn'.
While not steeped in all things folkloric to the same extent as Jocelyne Beroard, zouk's greatest voice fronting the group Kassav', Gilda Ray's singing here is supple and versatile, the sound of l'amour fou in any language. Her vocals provide an immediate prompt for comparison with Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, circa 1976 ("Cherchez La Femme"), as her timbre reminded me then and now of the latter band's Cory Daye. Gilda Ray was easily the more musically sure-footed of the two; Cory Daye relied on acting ability and volume to disguise her somewhat impressionistic relationship with intonation. To be altogether blunt, Ms. Daye often sounded as though she was most of the way in the bag. Anyone capable of sitting through a single play of Dr. Buzzard's regrettable late period effort, Calling All Beatniks (its possible subtitle: All of the reverb, None of the band), will know whereof I speak.
The Shanachie label released Zouk Obsession in 1990, a Pier' Rosier compilation including material from both periods of his career. How an anthology devoted to Gazolinn' could avoid interesting music is anyone's guess, but somehow Shanachie managed exactly that. After my first encounter with the Rosier sound in Original Music's barn, I scooped up as much of the band's original vinyl as I could grab at the time — including another self-titled release whose cover features a merde-encrusted human peering from beneath a manhole cover and pointing a can of air freshener at the photographer. I soon learned that every Gazolinn' album contained at least a few songs, though often more, of comparable worth with the music you will hear today. None of these albums, to my ear, is quite on par with Gazolinn', saturated as it is with the good stuff stem to stern. Still, there's much to recommend in the group's discography, so it's all the more curious that neither Rosier nor Gazolinn' merit so much as a mention in the usually well-researched volumes comprising World Music: The Rough Guide. It seems that a remedial Gazolinn' comp is in order, and so I will attempt same at some point in the foreseeable future.
GAZOLINN' (@ 320)