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La Serpenta 

Wednesday, Nov 22 2000
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DIAMANDA GALAS at the Knitting Factory, November 11

Diamanda Galas is more than a voice. That voice remains her calling card; sprawling over several octaves, segueing effortlessly between disparate musical traditions, turning every trick in the Extended Vocal Technique repertoire as if EVT were a mother tongue, Galas’ voice is one of the wonders of the postmodern world. Even without the often-ingenious electro-manipulations she and her technicians devise, Galas‘ pipes would be the envy of a cathedral organ in their power and flexibility (and remain so after two decades of nearly constant use). But said pipes lodge in the gullet of a consummate musician, inherently gifted, superbly trained and deeply responsive to a universe of musics. If she continues to evolve as a musician, it is thanks both to Galas’ natural abilities and her ferocious will to grow.

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Thus Galas revealed herself to her devoted and growing L.A. audience as a killer keyboarder as well as singer. Her pianism, augmented with the same relatively restrained electro-distortion that spices (rather than drives) her singing, provided her nearly seamless, and often surprising, accompaniment. At times during her dozen-song (plus encores) set, titled La Serpenta Canta -- the last of a three-night engagement -- the thought occurred, Hey, if she‘d give her throat a rest, she’d turn into one of the great crossover pianists of our time, a la Cecil Taylor or Keith Jarrett. But she and we know where her place in history and our hearts and ears is, and her piano chops simply serve her avant-diva vocal mission.

And it is a kind of mission. Having long ago put aside the contempt she once professed for her audience, Galas now embraces the people she sings to, warming in their adulation and respecting their intelligence. Even the dorky punkers who swarm to her siren song like goths to a flame, Galas clearly believes, can grow with her in the breadth and depth of their musical sophistication. So to them and to the rest of us she sang blues, Mediterranean cantillations, Mahalia Jackson, free-jazz improvisations, flamenco, quasi show tunes, chansons, gospel, Screamin‘ Jay Hawkins, and avant-garde neo-expressionist lieder (including her own settings of Baudelaire, Pasolini, and Paul Celan’s famous Holocaust poem, ”Todesfugue“) -- among other modalities. Of course, Galas fused many of these genres, creating wild and witty transitions or, more startling, hybrid styles.

Will Galas help spawn a new, pan-stylistic vocal -- and, for that matter, instrumental -- music for the new century? Or do her superior abilities make her a paradigm impossible to emulate? There may never be another singer(-pianist) like Diamanda Galas, but her model of intelligent, omnivorous and devoted musicianship can only encourage more multiphonic, multigeneric experimentation. Bring it home, mama.

Thompson, Michael Wilson; Mosh, Juan Rodrigo Liaguno

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