MASTERFUL MUSIC BY ICONIC JAZZ MASTERS

By Dee Dee McNeil

DECEMBER 1, 2020

If you have a die-hard jazz fan in your immediate circle of family and friends, here are some suggestions for musical gifts guaranteed to please!

ELLA FITZGERALD – THE LOST BERLIN TAPES – Verve Record Label

Ella Fitzgerald, piano; Paul Smith, piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Stan Levey, drums.

You hear the crowd roar its approval as soon as Ella Fitzgerald steps onto the stage.  She opens with “Cheek to Cheek” and her trio swings hard behind her.  This was an era when female jazz singers wore sparkling dresses and flashy jewelry. They didn’t appear on stage with background dancers, smoke billowing or videos playing behind them. Jazz vocalists didn’t need strobe lights shimmering across their stages.  Ella stood there quite queenly, confident next to her microphone, and wowed the crowd with her spectacular vocal mastery. She didn’t need any gimmicks.  In these old tapes of a concert recorded nearly sixty years ago, you hear the genius of this first lady of song.  Her genius still takes my breath away.  Track 2 has a cute lyric and it’s called, “My Kind of Boy.”  She sounds playful and knows how to present each lyric like a favorite bedtime story.  These Lost Berlin Tapes were uncovered in Norman Granz’s collection and they reintroduce us to Ella in her prime.  Recorded March 25, 1962, she’s performing in Berlin’s Sportpalast venue.  She was the first lady of bebop and Swing in her day and she retains that title in this present era.  No singer has come along who can challenge the smoothness and perfection of Ella Fitzgerald, or master her amazing vocal capabilities.  We listen as she becomes an uninhibited instrument right before our ears.  I am still amazed at her scatting abilities, where she simply becomes one of the cats in her band; a vocal instrument.  This concert was part of a string of performances all across Europe in 1962, to the enjoyment and thrill of packed audiences.  Back then, Norman Granz was a respected jazz record producer for Clef, Norgran and Verve record labels and he was also Ella’s manager.  For this concert, Paul Smith was on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks was on bass and Stan Levey on drums.  This was an important year for Ms. Fitzgerald.  She performed to fifteen thousand people at Madison Square Garden to headline a Birthday Salute to John F. Kennedy on May 19 of 1962 and also played the 7th Annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas; a show that was televised.  She played at London’s Royal Festival Hall and in several other key concert halls worldwide. Drummer, Stan Levey recalls an unforgettable concert performance that illuminates Ella Fitzgerald’s sense of humor.

“One night, during our concert on one of these London stages, we’re playing away, just swinging, and all of a sudden from the wing this guy staggers out.  He’s got a long beard.  He’s disheveled and Ella looks at me. Do something, she says.  So, I pick the guy up and walk him off stage.  I got back on the drums and we’re playing again and here he comes.  Ella does a double take, says, Ladies and Gentlemen, Montgomery Cliff!  (he was a handsome movie star of that day!)  The audience enthusiastically applauds and then they boo me when I walk him off stage again.  It was very funny!” Stan shares the story, showing us the humorous side of Ella, because of course it wasn’t Montgomery Cliff.

This European tour happened prior to Ella Fitzgerald’s 45th birthday.  You can hear the joy and freedom in her crystal-clear tone and style.  On Track 3 she sings, “Cry Me A River” and although Ella starts the bluesy ballad in a sultry way, to my surprise the arrangement soon begins to swing right after they reach the bridge.  The happiness leaps from my CD player on “I Won’t Dance” and her London audience goes absolutely wild.  “Someone to Watch Over Me,” is performed with the full introductory verse and this beautiful ballad settles us down, but not for long.  Here comes “Jersey Bounce,” where she opens with a scat and shuffles her way through the song with Wilfred Middlebrook walking his big, bad bass and Levey strongly slapping the rhythm into place.  This is an absolute gem of a recording that sparkles with talent, history and musical magic.  It will make a wonderful gift for any jazz lover and should be on every jazz collector’s shelf.

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THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET – “TIME OUTTAKES” – Brubeck Editions

Dave Brubeck, piano/composer; Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

Dave Brubeck and his astounding quartet are the epitome of the West Coast cool-jazz scene.  The original ‘Time Out’ sessions took place in the summer of 1959.  This historic session produced an enormous amount of music.  It was recorded in the midst of a busy Brubeck touring schedule.  Several ‘outtakes’ were left behind in the studio archives, and when multi-Grammy winning producer Kabir Sehgal reviewed them, he knew they had to be released for the public to enjoy.  This project features work that has never been heard, except for that summer in 1959, when the Brubeck Quartet was laying these tunes down. 

Born December 6, 1920, appropriately this album is being released at a time when Dave Brubeck would have turned 100 years old.  Consequently, it celebrates his centennial year and the awesome fact that his music is still being played and enjoyed a century after his birth. 

“Take Five,” originally recorded June 25, 1959, was supposed to stand on its own as a drum feature.  Written in the odd 5/4 meter, it challenged the band and drummer, Joe Morello.  At that time, most of the jazz and popular music in general, was written in waltz-time or 4/4 meter.  Little did Dave Brubeck know this song would become his anthem and a popular jazz composition worldwide.  It is, in fact, one of those songs that distinguishes jazz and our American culture in a most unforgettable way.  Like Herbie Hancock said about the Dave Brubeck Quartet:

“Jazz changed everything for me, and Dave did that!  That’s because Dave was the wizard of West Coast Cool.  With “Time Out” things took off into the stratosphere,” Hancock reminisced.

This music mirrors the Brubeck Quartet’s brilliance and originality.  Compiled from discarded tracks that epitomize this historic recording session, the songs are familiar like, “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “Three To Get Ready” or “Cathy’s Waltz.” Each is refreshingly and beautifully presented.  The group sounds brand new and reflects the innovation and integrity of each individual player, as well as the amazing composing skills of Dave Brubeck. 

Dave’s daughter, Cathy Brubeck-Yaghsizian, recalls the inspiration for “Cathy’s Waltz.”

“When my father would come home from the road, … to connect and have some family fun, he’d call a jam session.  The boys would all get their instruments and I would wiggle into a blue tutu my mother had bought for me, since I loved to dance.  You can imagine keeping up with all those crazy rhythms wasn’t easy for a five-year-old, but I tried!  I would enthusiastically whirl and knock into a coffee table or plant, then whirl again. …twirl and plop.  Twirl and plop.  I’m not sure if that is what dad was thinking when he wrote the piece, but I do remember we all had a lot of laughs at those jam sessions,” Cathy recalls in an extensive liner note reflection.

These never-before-heard tracks offer the listeners a peek into the past and a glimpse at the original Dave Brubeck quartet during its 1959 prime.  The Dave Brubeck Quartet changed the concept of jazz in their own unique way; each member becoming a true American icon.

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BILL EVANS LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTTS – Resonance Records

Bill Evans, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums.

This double set CD release features an in-depth Collector’s deluxe overview insert that includes interviews with jazz lover and comic actor, Chevy Chase.  The famed album cover designer, David Stone Martin captures Evans in a caricature and bassist, Eddie Gomez; drummer, Jack DeJohnette; pianist Chick Corea and veteran jazz critic, Brian Priestley all share opinions and memories. You really get to know Bill Evans from the lips of his friends, fellow musicians, artists and journalists.  Pulled from Jack DeJohnette’s personal recorded archives, “Live at Ronnie Scott’s” is comprised of twenty tracks and captures The Evans trio during their month-long gig in 1968.  This is the second ‘live’ Evans album to be released by Resonance Records and it’s recorded at the Ronnie Scott popular jazz venue in England. This release is also the fifth Resonance title to feature unreleased music by this historic pianist.  In fact, Miles Davis stopped in to check out the band during their stint at this popular jazz venue and quickly recruited DeJohnette for his own newly formed group, stealing him away from the Bill Evans trio. 

“The music was at a really high creative height and I’m glad I documented that and the tape was good enough for Resonance to run with it,” explained Jack DeJohnette.  “You really get a chance to hear Bill Evans stretch out.”

You will enjoy first and second takes of lovely songs like “Emily” and “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” each totally unique in their own way.  Other familiar standards include “A Sleepin’ Bee;” a rousing version of “Someday My Prince Will Come;” a tender rendition of “For Heaven’s Sake,” where Eddie Gomez’s bass beautifully accentuates the Evans phrasing, adding melodic depth to the arrangement. Gomez also soars on his bass solo and introduction to “Embraceable You.”  Jack DeJohnette shines throughout, playing with gusto and pulling the trio tenaciously along, like a locomotive engine.   

On disc two, they open with “Quiet Now” just piano on the long introduction, featuring the technical mastery of Bill Evans.  Then the bass joins him and next, DeJohnette adds his percussive coloring to the mix.  Eddie Gomez recalls their four-week gig at Ronnie Scotts.

“Jack (DeJohnette) was a good fit for the trio in the few months he was with us.  Prior to Jack, Bill’s trio had Philly Joe Jones, the great iconic drummer and that was certainly spectacular.  At that time, I was pretty young … so, having Philly Joe on one side and Bill on the other was a huge moment in my musical life,” Eddie reminisces. 

“Jack brought a lot of good points to the trio; the energy; he was very open about how to address the pulse. … That was nice. He’s really a pianist who plays drums.  That’s arguably why he fit in so well,” Eddie Gomez shared his opinion about working with Evans and DeJohnette.

While talking to Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette recalled that he actually was only with the trio six months before Miles Davis came calling.

“We played Ronnie’s after the Montreux gig. … I recorded it on a hip recorder.  I stuck the mic in the piano near Eddie’s bass and it recorded the piano, bass and drums,” Jack DeJohnette explained how this recording was made; no separation or fixing it in the studio.  It is what it is.

The second disc is as memorable and brilliant as the first, adding a couple of new standard tunes like “Alfie” and “Stella by Starlight.”  There’s also “Waltz for Debby and an exciting arrangement of “Round Midnight.”  This is another     recording that should be on every jazz collector’s shelf.

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NOAH BLESS “NEW YORK STRONG – LATIN JAZZ” – Zoho Records

Noah Bless, trombone/composer; Mike Eckroth, piano/keyboard; Boris Kozlov, bass; Pablo Bencid, drums; Luisito Quintero, percussion; Alejandro Aviles, flute.

Noah Bless is a graduate of the renowned Cincinnati Conservatory of music.  When he left Ohio to work on his Master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music, he fell in love with New York City and its intoxicating music scene.  He landed a gig at the Club Broadway, just a few blocks from where he lived on the Upper West Side of the city and he used to stroll to the gig on 96th & Broadway, trombone in hand.  By 1992, he was hired to tour with Afro-Cuban jazz pioneer, Mario Bauza and was part of the maestro’s 1993 record release, “My Time is Now.”  He’s also worked with such salsa stars as Oscar D’Leon, Celia Cruz and La India.  His trombone mastery quickly found its way to the stages of Latin jazz icons like Eddie Palmieri and Ray Santos, as well as the Spanish Harlem Orchestra under the direction of Arturo O’Farrill.  It’s taken a while, but this is Noah’s premiere CD release as a bandleader.

He opens with an original composition, “Chasing Normal” that is quite melodic, but moves quickly to a straight-ahead, funk fueled arrangement that spotlights the powerful piano playing of Mike Eckroth.  Track 2 focuses on the Latin side, with amazing percussive executions by both drummer, Pablo Bencid, and percussionist, Luisito Quintero.  Titled “Ganga,” this is a spirited tune that radiates a playful, party atmosphere.

“Canto De Ossanha” is one of my favorites on this album of eight well-played tunes.  This arrangement is lilting and melodic, featuring the crystal-clear tone of the Bless trombone, that dances along to the group’s warm percussion rhythm.  This song blends genres, embracing Latin roots, mixed with smooth jazz on this Afro-samba arrangement.  It gives Boris Kozlov an opportunity to show-off his bass skills in a well-played solo opportunity.   I found myself hypnotically entertained by “Ligia,” a Jobim composition.  This ballad is so touching and gives Noah Bless a platform to wrap us up in his beautiful and emotional trombone tonality, tinged delicately by the ‘blues.’  This song is a gift, tenderly decorated with splashy, warm colors, trailing ribbons of holiday goodness. 

“That melodic thing has always been my strong suit,” the trombonist admits in the liner notes.  “… It’s great for ballad playing in more of a straight-ahead swing tradition.  But I found that it also applies well to playing in Latin bands, particularly on montunos, where you’re supposed to play something that’s very melodic in the clave.  So that idea, how to feel that rhythm while playing simply, but still melodically, has been marinating for years.  It’s something I’ve been working on for decades at this point.” 

It may have taken years for this album of fine music to come to fruition, but it was definitely worth the wait.  Like a sturdy redwood tree, Noah Bless’s strong, indescribably beautiful CD is a seasoned, natural creation that warmly serenades the universe.

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 THE KALEIDOSCOPE QUINTET – “DANCING ON THE EDGE” – Dot Time Records

Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/flute/composer; Dave Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones/wooden flute/composer; Tony Marino, bass; Michael Stephans, drums; Judi Silvano, voice.

The Kaleidoscope Quintet is a group of master musicians who got together for a gig at the Deer Head Inn one November evening in 2013.  My friend and respected jazz drummer, Michael Stephans, boasts an impressive four-decade career on both coasts of our nation and worldwide.  He’s also a published journalist.  In fact, the year of this recording, Michael was promoting his “Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion.”  Both Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, master musicians and composers in their own right, contributed to his book with Liebman writing the preface.  This was to be the Michael Stephans’ launch party and it mirrors a celebratory concert performance that was happily recorded for our listening pleasure.  You can hear the appreciative audience applause as a backdrop for this Avant-garde, live jazz recording.

Joe Lovano is appreciated as one of the most inventive saxophonists in the jazz world.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio (1952) it was perhaps ordained that he play saxophone since his dad, Tony “Big T” Lovano got him interested in the horn as a child.  There is even a historic photograph of baby Joe in the arms of his mother with a saxophone cradled next to him.  Dragged along by his dad, Joe Lovano attended in-person concerts by masters like James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Young Lovano wound up joining Wood Herman’s Thundering herd from 1976 to 1979.  After attending Berklee College of Music, Joe landed professional gigs with wonderful jazz organists like Lonnie Smith and Brother Jack McDuff.  He’s worked with the who’s who of jazz artists including Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Abbey Lincoln, Bob Brookmeyer, Dave Holland, Billy Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock and the list goes on and on.  He’s a Grammy winner and has a long and respectable relationship with Blue Note Records.

Dave Liebman was born September 4, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York.  Early in his career, Liebman landed a saxophone/flute gig with the great drummer, Elvin Jones.  This was followed by a stint with the Miles Davis ensemble from 1970 to 74.  He’s also toured with Chick Corea and formed his own group with amazing sidemen like Kenny Kirkland, Terumasa Hino and John Scofield.  Always seeking the outer limits of the music and pushing musical boundaries, he has made a huge name for himself as an incredible improvisor and artistic composer and woodwind player.  He shares his genius, creating instructional clinic DVDs and CDs, while actively teaching at various universities.  His biography was released in 2012 and Dave Liebman has won an extensive number of awards and honors over his stellar career. 

Judi Silvano is a beautiful and extraordinary voice that acts like a third horn on this project.  She’s a singer, composer and graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with degrees in both music and dance.  As a protegee of Sheila Jordan and Jeanne Lee, she explores her art outside the box.  She has had a long-term collaboration with Joe Lovano and has fourteen record releases on her own.  Judi’s recorded her own original music, jazz standards and worked from duo productions to large ensembles.  She has released two records of music for meditation and healing.  Downbeat has lauded Judi Silvano as one of the top ten jazz voices and she passes her experience and knowledge on in clinical settings, workshops and at Universities worldwide.  Composing led her to pursue arranging. Her artistic talents also include painting with watercolor, pastel oil and encaustic work.  In fact, she is the designer and artist who created this Kaleidoscope Quintet CD cover. 

Tony Marino is a one of those virtuoso musicians who, as Michael Stephan explains:

“Tony is always in the moment, ready to leap into the abyss at any time. … He’s one of the most intuitive jazz musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with.”

At age thirteen, Tony Marino switched from guitar to the bass instrument and never looked back.  Morino kick-started his musical adventure by backing up a host of historic names, bringing his big bass sound to the stages of Joan Rivers, Vic Damone, Robert Goulet and Nell Carter.  He also played with jazz greats like Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Mose Allison, Phil Woods, Hal Galper, Urbie Green and John Coates jr.  But as he grew musically, and explored other directions in his musical approach, he began a collaboration with jazz tenor, Dave Liebman.  He has performed with Liebman throughout Europe, Japan, Thailand, Australia and South America.  It’s been a thirty-year musical adventure. 

This is an exciting and unique quintet, that stretches the boundaries of music to its farthest degree and, like a kaleidoscope, these musicians splash fascinating musical colors all over the listener.  They hypnotize us with their unique interaction. There are two original songs written by Joe Lovano and two compositions penned by Dave Liebman.  Stuck in the middle is the familiar tune, “There Is No Greater Love.”  Just like peering through the entertaining lenses of a kaleidoscope, the pieces of this quintet move, shape and reshape themselves before our very eyes in shiny, brilliant and memorable ways.

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JEFF ELLWOOD – “THE SOUNDS AROUND THE HOUSE” – Independent Label

Jeff Ellwood, tenor saxophone/composer; Alan Pasqua, piano/composer; Darek Oles, bass/composer; Joe Labarbera, drums; Special guest: Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone.

Jeff Ellwood is the current Director of Instrumental Jazz Studies at Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, California.  After much prodding by his contemporaries, he decided to take a solo journey into becoming a recording artist and bandleader.  Ellwood carefully picked the crème-de-la-crème of Southern California’s wealth of jazz musicians.  He invited the last drummer to play with the great Bill Evans, Joe LaBarbera and his longtime friend, Alan Pasqua to man the piano.  Jeff also called Darek Oles for his recording project.  He’s one of Southern California’s first-call bass players and as a special guest, he asked saxophonist Bob Sheppard to join him on track six, a tune written by Dick Oatts (“King Henry”).  It originally featured Oatts and Jerry Bergonzi on their “South Paw” album for the Steeplechase label.  This is one of my favorite tunes on this CD.  Joe LaBarbera is given several bars to solo on trap drums and Ellwood and Bob Sheppard harmonize with each other and then each one takes a spirited solo. Another favorite is “Old School Blues,” composed by pianist and co-producer, Alan Pasqua.  It reflects a great melodic structure and it swings hard. 

The opening tune is based on one of Ellwood’s favorite jazz standards, “All the Things You Are” and he calls his song, “U.R.”.  It’s a great way to open his album and to introduce you to some of Southern California’s best jazz players.  Each takes an impressive solo on this opening production.  The composition that Ellwood has created may use the same changes as the old standard, but his melody is fresh and totally his own.

Ellwood has a smooth, mellow tone on tenor saxophone.  He admits to being greatly influenced by Rick Margitza, Dick Oatts and Jerry Bergonzi. He also admires James Moody and had an opportunity to take a lesson from the iconic, master musician before Moody died.  Track 4 is a Rick Margitza composition called “Provence” and it opens with an ‘other-worldly’ introduction by Ellwood and Pasqua.  Ellwood makes interesting tones and sounds float from the bell of his saxophone and Pasqua plays mysterious music on the piano.  Then they settle into a lilting, moderate-tempo arrangement with a melody that makes you want to hum along.  The title tune follows, composed by Johnny Mercer and Alec Wilder.  “The Sounds Around the House” is a beautiful ballad.   I enjoyed the original tune “The Honeymoon” by bassist Darek Oles.  The group is inspired on this one, pushing the envelope with bebop and improvisation ruling.  Oles is pumping strongly on his bass, providing a lush cushion beneath Jeff Ellwood’s satin-smooth saxophone solo; while LaBarbera pushes the energy forward with unrelenting drum sticks.  Alan Pasqua plays a dynamic, straight-ahead piano solo.  In this tasty arrangement, for several bars Pasqua’s piano is missing, but that adds interest to their arrangement and singularly spotlights Ellwood’s innovative saxophone.  LaBarbera is given time to explore his drums during a very melodic solo and yes; percussion instruments sing their own song and can be very melodious.  LaBarbera shows us how that happens.

They close with “For Roger” a ballad composition by organist, Joe Bagg,    that is explored and interpreted with just saxophone and bass.  It’s a lovely way to end a beautifully recorded concert of fine music.

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WOLFGANG LACKERSCHMID CHET BAKER QUINTET SESSIONS 1979 – Dot Time Records

Chet Baker, trumpet/vocals; Featuring: Larry Coryell, guitar; Buster Williams, bass; Tony Williams, drums; Wolfgang Lackerschmid, vibes/producer.

Wolfgang Lackerschmid wrote the liner notes for this album of amazing music.  He explains how this group of master musicians came together.

“After our duo recording for ‘Ballads for Two’ Chet invited me to be a member of his band.  During many concerts and tours with different musicians, mainly from Italy, France, Belgium and USA, Chet (Baker) always featured our duo.  At the Festival in Velden/Austria … we met Larry Coryell who performed with Sonny Rollins’ Quartet.  We played some of my tunes as a duo feature, also for encore.  After our concert, Larry came backstage with tears in his eyes, saying that it was so beautiful that he would love to join our duo some time,” Wolfgang recalled.

He continued, “Chet’s agent picked this up right away and suggested doing a record with the three of us plus rhythm section.  Chet said, we don’t need no rhythm section.  The agent still insisted.  … Some weeks later I received a call from Chet’s agent. Everything’s fine.  Buster (Williams) and Tony (Williams) are excited to play at this recording.”

This journalist was absolutely stoked to review Chet Baker and Wolfgang Lackerschmid’s historic project.  They open with “Mr. Biko,” a Tony Williams tune, with Buster Williams walking his bass tenaciously throughout and also offering us an inspired solo. Larry Coryell adds a bluesy guitar arrangement to the mix.  Chet Baker’s sensuous, sexy trumpet steps into the spotlight, while Wolfgang’s vibes lock into the rhythm section, creating the backdrop for a stellar performance.  Towards the end of the tune, the musicians change the mood to funk, propelled by Tony’s drums and Buster’s melodic, infectious bass line.  The Lackerschmid vibes float on top, strong as sunshine glinting on a powerful ocean wave. This is a great way to start this recording, giving each player time to expose their unique and genius talents. Track 2 is a Lackerschmid tune titled, “Balzwaltz” that features the tenor vocals of Chet Baker, using his voice as a lyric-less instrument, he becomes a vocal extension of his horn.   You hear him scatting beautifully across this musical trampoline.  The tune has a ¾ tempo bounce and gives a broad stage for Tony Williams to solo on trap drums against a bass backdrop provided by Buster Williams.  Every song on this production is well-played, meticulously arranged and interpreted by a group of jazz legends. 

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One Response to “MASTERFUL MUSIC BY ICONIC JAZZ MASTERS”

  1. REVIEWS: Time OutTakes Reviewed by All About Jazz, Toledo Blade, and more - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] Dee McNeil has also reviewed Time OutTakes on the Musicalmemoirs’s blog. Adrian Pallant’s review can be found on AP […]

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