The release of a new solo album from Faith No More and Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton means two things: a lesson in remedial Italian and chance to check out some strange, overlooked music. Having already paid homage to Italian film soundtracks on 2008’s A Perfect Place and 2010’s Mondo Cane, Patton turns his latest solo album into a tribute to composer Luciano Berio, specifically Berio’s experimental piece Laborintus II, written in 1965 to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth. Patton first presented the work in 2010 with Brussels orchestra Ictus Ensemble and Dutch choir Nederlands Kamerkoor at the Holland Festival. Here he renders a slightly different take on the free-form source material, placing greater emphasis on the interplay of classical and folk music with avant-garde jazz, while paring back the electronic and pop elements of the original.
As with most of what Patton does these days, Laborintus II is challenging, uncompromising, and bordering on inaccessible, but the talented musicians involved pull off some truly eerie and gripping passages. (Patton himself mostly just narrates in Italian and the occasional English.) The album’s themes may be abstract, but that abstraction doesn’t blunt the unsettling impact of Patton’s haunting arrangements, in which wraithlike intonations are punctuated by fractured blasts of instrumental noise, chaotic shouts, and banshee shrieks.
Part one begins with the mournful, ethereal chill of female vocals and brief moments of recurring melody. Part two is a more helter-skelter affair, a clash of honking reeds, bursts of brass, and jumbled percussion. The whole adventure comes to a relatively tranquil conclusion in the third part, which cobbles together shards of broken drum riffs and free-jazz woodwinds before fading into a quietly serene finish. Those who give Laborintus II a few listens will uncover a few hidden payoffs buried deep within its heap of musical ideas. Those who don’t go to the trouble will still appreciate Patton’s boundless, difficult, creativity.