Bill Laswell never met a genre he couldn’t tinker with. He has coaxed career performances from metal-mongers Motorhead and White Zombie, dabbled in Middle Eastern musical mosaics and added his imprint to traditional Celtic songs. But even by his peripatetic standards, the world of opera would seem a tough place to grab a toehold.
With “Operazone,” however, Laswell and collaborator Alan Douglas have staked a claim — albeit a somewhat shaky one, given the dearth of vocals — to achieving a fusion of traditional opera and post-modern pan-ethnic jazz. As presented in this soaring space — a 150-year-old former synagogue — the blend made sense on a gut level, although Puccini aficionados might blanch if confronted with the ensemble’s radical remix of Turandot’s “Nessun Dorma.”
While the assembled tentet — revamped drastically from the group that recorded the Operazone album — held together well as an ensemble, multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum proved to be the most interesting soloist, conjuring tranquil nostalgia with his flute playing and a deep sense of melancholy on a tenor saxophone he wielded with the somber mien of a shofar blower.
Conductor Berger — who previously collaborated with the late jazz titan Don Cherry — demonstrated a fine ear for detail, coaxing meticulous intricate movements from the four-person string section on a comparatively faithful reading of the prelude to “La Traviata.” Those delicate melodies were counter-balanced nicely by Art Baron’s bold euphonium strokes and Hamid Drake’s stoic drumming — elements that also surfaced in a piece based on the overture to Verdi’s “La Rose del Destine.”
The significant problem with Operazone, however, is its steadfast politesse. You’d think that, given the excess inherent in opera itself, Laswell and Douglas could have had a field day. Instead, they chose to suppress those instincts and present a program that, while undeniably lovely, fell short as in terms of its instigative potential.