What a disappointment that creative musicians who have given us so much over the last several decades are responsible for lackluster stuff like Operazone's The Redesign in the year 2000. The project was conceived as a jazz-opera hybrid by producer Alan Douglas and realized on this Knitting Factory Records CD by cornetist/flugelhornist Graham Haynes, all-around creative jazz legend Karl Berger, and bassist/producer Bill Laswell. It should be noted that Laswell does not play bass on The Redesign, but instead "constructed" the music in the studio. The actual performers are Berger on keyboards, Haynes, Philadelphia tenor saxophonist Byard Lancaster, New York acoustic bassist Mark Helias, and a host of other musicians on strings, flutes, and French horns. The Redesign features operatic themes of Donizetti, Verdi, Saint-Saens, and Puccini performed by thick and undistinguished strings, interspersed among generally languid solo spots from Haynes and Lancaster. Rhythm tracks with tablas and other ethnic percussion are consistently low in the mix, propelling the music forward at consistent tempos and providing a touch of world music exoticism.
It is unclear to whom this music is intended to appeal. Certainly the drama, passion and spectacle of opera are missing, and the flat dynamics and auto-pilot percussion make this lukewarm jazz at best. Lancaster is usually a soulful and robust player, but he is watered down on this outing. Haynes fares a bit better, perhaps because he has more experience finding ways to be expressive over robotic techno beats (and also because the cornet and flugelhorn can more easily cut through the mushy "Material Strings" arranged by Berger).
The principals of Haynes, Berger, and Laswell have all accomplished far more in other settings. Former Five Elements member Haynes has been a true international innovator in recent years. One need look no further than the classical/jazz/techno experiment of "Variations on a Theme by Wagner" on Haynes' Knitting Factory Records release BPM to find a more exciting and engaging musical concoction than anything on The Redesign. As a founder of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York, Berger is practically the United States' father of contemporary creative improvisation, and he is one of our best vibraphonists as well. Out of the these three, Laswell might be the most prone to drowning in an ambient music soup but, after all, he has also been a major force behind such edgy projects as Material, Praxis and No Exit.
Laswell might have been expected to pick up an idea or two from Bob Belden, with whom he worked on Panthalassa, the 1998 Sony/Columbia Records remix/reconstruction of Miles Davis "fusion period" music. Belden took his own shot at mixing opera with jazz on Puccini's Turandot, a 1992 Blue Note CD released only in Japan. Compared to Operazone's The Redesign, Puccini's Turandot by The Bob Belden Ensemble is a dazzlingly rich recording, a real journey across varied terrain with a pronounced Miles influence and absolutely no reliance on percussive cruise control. In contrast, Operazone has been successful in redesigning opera and jazz as something perilously close to elevator music -- smooth, lush, and atmospheric but robbed of each genre's vitality and emotional expressiveness.