Erika Dagnino Quartet | Signs | Slam Productions

Erika Dagnino – poetry, voice | Ras Moshe – flute, sprano sax, tenor sax | Ken Filiano – double bass, effects | John Pietaro – vibraphone, glockenspiel, snare drum, tom-tom, various bells, suspended cymbals, triangle, wind chimes, shaker

Signs poems by Erika Dagnino translated into English with the assistance of Emilia Telese and Bob Heman. Liner notes by Marco Buttafuoco translated into English by Lee Colbert. Cover and Inlay Photos by Erika Dagnino. Photo of the Quartet by Natalie Scarborough. Artwork by Stefano Pastor. Recorded by N. Scarborough on November 19th, 2012 at 17th Frost Theatre of the Arts, Brooklyn, NY. Editing, mixing and mastering by S. Pastor. Produced by Erika Dagnino and G. Haslam.

Tracklist: 1. Preludio [4:33] 2. Prima Improvvisazione [7:19] 3. Seconda Improvvisazione [7:49] 4. Terza Improvvisazione [4:22] 5. Quarte Improvvisazione [9:51] 6. Intermezzo [1:30] 7. Quinta Improvvisazione [8:38] 8. Improvvisazione Finale [8:01]



Saliva, occhio, larva.
Verso l’alto impronte di nubi.
Verso terra impronte ferite.
Saliva, pozzanghera, sogno.
Verso terra piedi striati.
Verso l’alto piedi inchiodati.
Di brani in brani fronde.
Di morsi in morsi la sutura scheggia.
Saliva. Occhio. Larva.
Saliva. Pozzanghera. Sogno.

Saliva, eye, larva.
Upward footprints of clouds.
Downward wounded footprints.
Saliva, puddle, dream.
Downward striped feet.
Upward nailed feet.
From bit to bit branches.
From bit to bit the seam splinters.
Saliva. Eye. Larva.
Saliva. Puddle. Dream.

The relationship between sound, voice and word

(not only sung), is central to the history of Jazz from its very beginnings. Some have even traced it back to the Afro-American storytellers who narrated their own lives into the very first tape-recorders, using rhythmic sounds and sudden tonal changes, imitating both the sounds of animals and the noises produced by machines or trains. Amiri Baraka maintains that, before being a musical form, the blues are a form of poetry. And couldn’t the same be said of scat? In fact, Afro-American culture does not easily accept rigid distinctions. Within it, the corporal and the sacred inhabit the same dimension; in the same way, within the word we find the cohabitation of sound, musical rhythm and timbre. “Just try listening to a group of Afro-Americans speaking among themselves. You will hear their discourse is full of waves, of ups and downs, they accelerate and then slow down. You might not even think they are speaking American. This is because of the unusual musical modulation in the way they speak” writes Amiri Baraka. We could also mention Jon Hendricks and vocalese or a popular and not always consistent artist such as Bobby Mc Ferrin, not to mention poets like Langston Hughes or writers such as Toni Morrison. European Jazz, which certainly has great merits when it comes to the renovation of improvised music, has never really investigated this fascinating subject deeply enough. Erika Dagnino represents one of the few exceptions in this field, and its not surprising that, although she has found little space in European circuits, she is well-known in the USA, especially within the tumultuous cultural life of New York. Many critics on this side of the Atlantic, even authoritative ones, have failed to realize that, in her performances, Dagnino is poet and musician at the same time.

In this work, as in the others before it, her voice and words become a real, true instrument. An instrument which vibrates and lives within the performer’s body and interacts on a level of equality with the other members of the group, be it in silence or during solos. And, though the verses are written (in Italian and English), their life within the story of each single piece has the strong and, at times, sharp taste of Jazz improvisation. In other words, these tales of fever, wounds and dry solitude are not narrated exclusively by the performer’s words and rough emotionality, but also through the noble Coltranian discourse of Ras Moshe’s sax and flute, by the terse and, at times, ardent sound of John Pietaro’s vibraphone (and percussion) and by the potent and visionary bass of Ken Filiano. We may apply to this recording (which took place in New York and is soaked in New York) the words that Langston Hughes wrote in 1956: “Jazz seeps into words — spelled out words!”. The great poet of the Harlem Renaissance wrote in the same essay that Jazz always narrates the great pains of existence, just as work-songs were about the hardship of life on the cotton plantations of the South. Perhaps, Hughes would have very much appreciated Signs; he probably, as opposed to so much hurried critique, would have understood the ferocious urgency of those passages where Dagnino uses the Italian language. — Marco Buttafuoco

Amiri Baraka quotations are from “Musica e poesia. Conversazione con Amiri Baraka”. Interview by G. Rimondi in Jazzit, September/October issue, 2004, in “Amiri Baraka. Ritratto dell’artista in nero” edited by Franco Mingardi and Giorgio Rimondi, Bacchilega Editori, 2007. I freely confess that I owe the evocative image of the living instrument to Giorgio Rimondi. The Langston Hughes quotations are from “Jazz as communication” (1956), which I found and consulted on-line. (M. B.)


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