06 Miguel KertsmanMiguel Kertsman – Three Concertos; Chamber Symphony No.2 “New York of 50 Doors”
Marina Piccinini; Orsolya Korcsolán; Martin Kuuskmann; Gergely Sugar; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies
Naxos 8.573987 (naxos.com)

Brazilian/American Miguel Kertsman utilizes his artistic musical experiences as a composer, keyboardist, producer, audio engineer and music executive to compose classification-defying symphonic music that ranges from classical to atonal to mainstream/modern jazz to rock to folk.

The passionate performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Dennis Russell Davies support the soloists. Flutist Marina Piccinini performs colourful long-held notes, melodies and rhythmic sections in the Concerto Brasileiro for Flute, Strings and Percussion. Noteworthy are her virtuosic closing first-movement flute cadenza-like coda, and the third movement rhythmic folk/orchestral Repentes dance featuring flute and string conversations with percussion flourishes. Concerto for Violin, Horn, Shofar and Orchestra is an exciting four-movement exploration of styles, tonalities and rhythms. Journey for Bassoon and Orchestra is a geographical/musical trip. The outer movements are named after the composer (and soloist bassoonist) Martin Kuuskmann’s hometowns – the Tallinn movement features a lyrical Nordic-flavoured bassoon line, while the final Recife movement develops from an extended string fugato to a lively Brazilian dance frevo. Kertsman’s time in New York influences the jazzy middle movement highlighted by laid-back bassoon and xylophone conversations, and a driving rhythm section. Two brief solo bassoon extended-technique Inträludiums between movements are exceptional. The jazzy Chamber Symphony No.2 “New York of 50 Doors” uses two main themes from an earlier work with a repetitive chromatic four-note melody, and extended synthesizer use adding unique sounds.

This original disc is a high-quality listening experience!

07 Julius EastmanJulius Eastman – Piano Interpretations
Kukuruz Quartet
Intakt Records CD 306/2018 (intaktrec.ch)

In his relatively brief career, Julius Eastman (1940-1990) inhabited a kind of no man’s land as an African-American composer/performer in the classical wing of the American avant-garde, an associate of Cage, Feldman and Foss and a practitioner of a minimalism that embraced traditional chordal sequences. His titles were deliberately provocative – for example, Crazy Nigger and Gay Guerrilla – and he endured both drug addiction and homelessness. By the time of his death at 49, his work seemed slated for oblivion, and a rebirth of interest only began around 2010. Here the four pianists of the Kukuruz Quartet (Philip Bartels, Duri Collenberg, Simone Keller and Lukas Rickli) provide interpretations of four of Eastman’s compositions, works that possess drama and luminous power, resonating at once with work by Terry Riley and John Coltrane.

While the pieces operate on similar principles, using overlapping repetitions of short cadences, each has its own identity. The opening Fugue No.7 (1983) resembles church bells that echo and decay, building density through repetition and thickening, accumulating dissonances. Evil Nigger (1979) refines and expands elements of African-American church music. Buddha (1983) is a quiet change of pace, an extended foray into delicate textures as the four pianists focus on their instruments’ strings. The concluding Gay Guerrilla (1979) begins with repeated single notes, developing force through its half-hour length to its final triumphant, ascending figure.

There’s a rare strength to this music, its very methodology assuming a kind of defiance as the work develops its compelling identity.

01 Natashia dagostinoEndings Rarely Are
Natasha D’Agostino
Independent (natashadagostino.com)

What a bold move for Natasha D’Agostino to begin Endings Rarely Are, a debut album, with an original song in a minor key and sung with a seemingly endless line of wordless vocalastics. It immediately sets the tone for a very unusual album. But the young Vancouver-based Canadian is not only an audacious vocalist who has decided to buck the conventional trend, but also leaps off a musical cliff time and again when singing her own compositions, and also four wonderful jazz standards.

D’Agostino’s agile, luminous voice seems ideal for this kind of derring-do and she sings with power and subtlety. Immediately after two originals, including the aforementioned show-opener Flutter, she serves notice that she will worship at the altar of originality by swinging Earl Brent’s Angel Eyes at a blistering pace, turning the 1946 original on its proverbial head. And we find her taking a similarly bold and angular approach to the rest of the standards, especially in an intoxicating version of You Go to My Head and a touching rendition of I’ll Be Seeing You.

But the highlight of the album are D’Agostino’s originals, each of which she illuminates with wonderful control not only of narrative and emotion but also of lyricism and texture of word and line, which boasts some beautifully controlled singing in the deft tapering of quiet dynamics. Her resonant timbre deepens in Home, where she engages a wonderful band completely attuned to her artistry.

02 Joani TaylorIn A Sentimental Mood
Joani Taylor (featuring PJ Perry; Miles Black; Neil Swainson)
Cellar Live CL111517 (cellarlive.com)

After the sudden passing of her husband and musical partner, followed by a brutal (but victorious) battle with leukemia, veteran Vancouver-based jazz vocalist Joani Taylor was in no mood to record an album of standards. Fortunately for jazz listeners everywhere, Taylor was ultimately coaxed back to the microphone by iconic saxophonist (and lifelong friend) P.J. Perry. As the project began to take shape, inspired pianist, Miles Black, created arrangements of Taylor’s personally-selected tunes that framed her voice like a Tiffany setting, and fully embraced the considerable talents of multi-saxophonist Perry and bassist Neil Swainson.

Each of the 12 tracks are rife with skill, inspiration, and of course, Taylor’s sumptuous alto voice. There is no gratuitous, ill-informed scat-singing here – just superb musicianship, flawless and fluid interpretation, as well as a voice that reflects a lifetime in jazz. The CD kicks off with the Rodgers and Hart classic, This Can’t Be Love. The sound is authentic, warm and swinging – as is Taylor! The fine title track is a languid trip to the smokiest, hippest jazz boite in town. Taylor’s voice is full of power and intent, and her phrasing wrings every last emotional drop out of each Ellingtonian phrase.

A true standout is Taylor’s rendition of the Vincent Youmans hit, More Than You Know. Black and Swainson move contiguously through the bluesy, musical landscape while Taylor’s voice lilts and wails like a horn, until Perry enters the scene with a sax solo that elevates the tune to a whole new level. No doubt, this is one of the finest jazz vocal recordings of the year, and should be a required part of any serious jazz curriculum.

03 Amy CerviniNo One Ever Tells You
Amy Cervini
Anzic Records ANZ-0062 (amycervini.com)

No One Ever Tells You, released this summer on New York’s Anzic Records, is Amy Cervini’s fifth solo album, and marks the singer’s continuing interest in exploring the connections between jazz and other kinds of American roots music. Where her previous release – 2014’s Jazz Country, also on Anzic Records – featured intelligently arranged, acoustic guitar-driven versions of country songs from artists such as Hank Williams and Carrie Underwood, the focus of No One Ever Tells You is on the link between jazz and rock-inflected blues, with a decidedly more electric feel than its predecessor. While this new album is as much Susan Tedeschi as it is Blossom Dearie, Cervini maintains a distinct small-ensemble vibe throughout, with all of the nuance and communicative interplay that one would expect from Cervini’s seasoned band (Jesse Lewis, guitar, Michael Cabe, piano, Matt Aronoff, bass, Jared Schonig, drums, with special guest organist Gary Versace on four tracks).

I Don’t Know, the album’s opener (and the sole Cervini original), is a groovy, smouldering 12/8 blues, with strong solos from Versace and Lewis, and aptly establishes the mood for the nine tracks to come. Please Be Kind and You Know Who! hew closer to the jazz end of the blues-jazz spectrum, and Bye-Bye Country Boy – something of a feature for Lewis – is a fun highlight. Also a highlight: the album’s penultimate track, a beautiful rendition of One For My Baby, which Cervini performs in duet with Versace.

04 TurbopropAbundance
Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop
Anzic Records ANZ-0063 (ernestocervini.com)

Is there a more perfect time to release a CD titled Abundance than amid the lush colours of October and the overflowing riches of the fall harvest? Drummer, bandleader and composer Ernesto Cervini’s JUNO-nominated sextet Turboprop’s third CD, released on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, is a study in abundance and gratitude.

A seasoned, thoughtful (and grateful) bandleader, Cervini consistently draws out the best in his bandmates. Featuring Tara Davidson on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, Joel Frahm on tenor sax, William Carn on trombone, Adrean Farrugia at the piano and bassist Dan Loomis, the CD’s eight tracks include innovative originals from Davidson, Farrugia, Loomis and Cervini, as well as inventive takes on three classics, Dameron’s Tadd’s Delight, Arlen’s My Shining Hour and Smile by Charlie Chaplin, the latter showcasing some absolutely lush trombone work by Carn.

Davidson’s The Queen is a driving tour de force; The Ten Thousand Things by Farrugia opens with Loomis’ rich and resonant bass work; Cervini’s Gramps is a lovely, contemplative ballad dedicated to his late grandfather; and his Song for Cito celebrates legendary Blue Jays manager, Cito Gaston (remember those back-to-back World Series titles in 1992/93?). Evident throughout are Farrugia’s stellar piano solos, Davidson’s and Frahm’s saxophone mastery and Cervini’s always-tasteful work on the drums.

In the liner notes, Cervini expresses heartfelt gratitude to several important and inspiring people in his life. However, it is we, the listeners, who should be abundantly grateful for the existence of this outstanding album.

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05 Alexis BaroSandstorm
Alexis Baro
G-THREE GT0015 (alexisbaro.com)

Released in August on G-THREE Music, Sandstorm is the newest album from Havana-born, Toronto-based trumpet player Alexis Baro. An accomplished musician, Baro’s résumé includes performances with a wide range of artists, such as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, organist Joey DeFrancesco and producer David Foster. Inspired by Baro’s experiences living in a big city, Sandstorm is framed as a celebration of “the vibrant energy of diverse cultures living together in a rapidly changing urban environment.” Nine of the album’s eleven compositions are Baro’s; of the remaining two, one is a reworking of the traditional Latin American lullaby Drume Negrita, and the other is a cover of The Beatles’ Come Together. In addition to Baro, Sandstorm features keyboardists Jeremy Ledbetter and Anthony Brancati, bassists Yoser Rodriguez, Roberto Riveron and Andrew Stewart, and drummers Amhed Mitchel, Anthony Daniel, and Larnell Lewis.

After an exploratory, searching intro, in which Baro demonstrates the range of his melodic and timbral control, Sandstorm’s hard-driving title track begins with a repeated 5/8 motif that is woven throughout the song. The B Side of A, one of the album’s funkier entries, sees Baro playing with a filtered, electric trumpet sound while trading with Brancati, with a strong drum solo from Lewis. Baro’s trumpet glides smoothly atop the programmed drums in Drume Negrita, and Come Together is arranged with a sophisticated, understated groove. Central to Sandstorm is Baro’s sound: warm, articulate and confident in both the lower and upper registers, reassuring and surprising throughout the album.

06 Alex FrancouerMissing Element
Alex Francoeur Group
Effendi Records FND151 (effendirecords.com)

Even the abundant Québécois music scene throws up a particular surprise every once and a while; such is the case listening in wonder to the saxophonist Alex Francoeur. A superb technician who plays with tremendous élan and whose music allows the unimpeded flow of emotion without ever descending into gratuitous sentimentality, Francoeur plays with eloquent articulation and astounding control capped off by erudition and temperament that eludes many woodwind players of his generation.

The audience of the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill in Montreal was certainly in the best position to experience all of his unique gifts, as this recording, Missing Element, certainly proves. It is a brilliant record of the proceedings that eschews pyrotechnics for depth of feeling, couched in the restrained liquidity of the music. Francoeur’s playing feels extraordinarily reflective and relaxed throughout, and is especially rewarding in his limpid account of I Hear a Rhapsody, a standard that is all too often covered with fire and brimstone which, in turn, destroys its emotional content completely.

The rest of this wonderful repertoire comprises original material and here too one gets a glimpse of Francoeur’s musical stature. Works such as Tides are layered and complex and the musicians in his group (Chris Edmondson, alto sax; Gentiane MG, piano; Levi Dover, bass; Louis-Vincent Hamel, drums) respond with great musical intellect and intuition to meld the infectious allure of each with consummate skill and wholehearted enthusiasm.

07 Harry VetroNorthern Ranger
Harry Vetro
TOSound TSND-02 (harryvetro.com)

Northern Ranger is both an ice-breaking ferry operating in Newfoundland and Labrador and the name of an album by drummer and composer Harry Vetro. Vetro was inspired by Canada’s 150th birthday and a desire to travel across the country and learn more about our geography and Indigenous communities. An undergraduate special projects grant from the University of Toronto to record his first album allowed him to create this ambitious project.

The album creates an illusion of travelling through its descriptive names and some programmatic elements in the music. Many of the compositions are named after travel, for example: Gondola to Blackcomb, Hawk Air. Another way of creating movement is the mixing of several shorter pieces (solo guitar, solo piano and two trios), with works using a larger group with rhythm section, trumpet, saxophone and a string quartet.

The album opens with Northern Ranger: Leaving Goose Bay, an almost two-minute guitar solo played in a semi-classical style by Ian McGimpsey over the sampled sounds of the ocean. This leads into a thoughtful drum solo by Vetro which begins Buffalo Jump. Then the whole ensemble plays but quiets for a solo violin poignantly playing the main melodic motif, which is repeated by guitar, and then all strings and brass join for an animated central section.

Repeatedly beginning small and gradually building could be a cliché in music but in the context of this album it is a thoughtful exposition of the travel theme, where soft beginnings lead sometimes to rousing excitement and other times to quieter introspection. Vetro’s compositions are mainly jazz-oriented but have heavy folk and classical influences. The performances and solos are excellent and Lina Allemano has a marvellous trumpet sound, with a broad lyricism that reminds me of Kenny Wheeler.

08 Gelcer HoffertJim and Paul play Glenn and Ludwig
Jim Gelcer; Paul Hoffert; George Koller
Centrediscs CMCCD 25818 (musiccentre.ca)

Curiosity and doubt surprisingly quickly turned to delight and respect when listening to Jim Gelcer (drums), Paul Hoffert (piano) and George Koller (bass) with guests Bill McBirnie (flute on three tracks) and Ifield Joseph (guitar on one track) face the music and develop their jazz ideas based on recordings of pianist Glenn Gould playing Beethoven.

Why you may ask? Well, why not? Following the Glenn Gould Estate’s suggestion to create a recording, Gelcer and Hoffert listened to the wealth of Gould-recorded Beethoven music, and subsequently chose to arrange themes from the Moonlight Sonata, Fifth Symphony, Fifth Piano Concerto and Pathétique Sonata to create nine tracks.

Touches of classical and jazz resonate throughout. Opening track Moon Light starts with an almost traditional piano Moonlight Sonata performance but with drum accompaniment, until the bass moves the music into a dramatic jazz direction featuring a witty jazzy flute middle section. The closing track Day Light takes the same Sonata in a more classical direction with shifts in major and minor tonalities and a contrapuntal jazz flute development above a piano backdrop playing the opening sonata-line ideas. The famous four-note opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony takes on a toe-tapping upbeat fun jazz sound in Vitamin B51. First Path has the trio lead the Pathétique theme into a tight, fun jazz trio and duet improvisations

With their jazz brilliance, all the musicians give new life and colour to the music of Glenn and Ludwig!

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09 Bitter SuiteThe Bitter Suite
Marie Goudy 12tet featuring Jocelyn Barth
Independent (mariegoudy.com)

Haunting, poetic, imaginative – The Bitter Suite grabs the listener right away and doesn’t let go. A love story told through five movements, each chapter of the story connected with a particular season, a song cycle that is enchanting in atmosphere and brimming with emotion.

The Bitter Suite feels intimate, like late night confessions, yet universal in meaning. Written and arranged by Marie Goudy, it has an interestingly varied musical language – elements of jazz and mariachi styles combine very well here. Goudy’s musical world is gentle and transcendent but she is fiery in her expression as a composer and as a trumpet player. The large jazz ensemble lays out harmonies and rhythms across the board, creating a mellow landscape for engaging solos in each piece. But what really links the pieces together is the mesmerizing voice and phrasing of the vocalist Jocelyn Barth.

The album opens with Goudy’s dreamy solo trumpet Intro. Playful Son for Sunshine and passionate Autumn’s Embrace follow in its footsteps, each different in expression but both influenced with mariachi rhythms and style. Winter is simply beautiful, a story about the world covered in snow and a heartbreak. The suite itself concludes with Lilacs, a classy tune with a melancholy feel. Although the last piece on the album, Remember the Days, does not belong to the suite (it is an ode to a cherished friendship), it makes for a lovely postscript.

10 McBirney and BernieThe Silent Wish
Bill McBirnie; Bernie Senensky
Extreme Flute EF08 (extremeflute.com)

The Silent Wish brings the two loves of flutist Bill McBirnie – his mastery of the flute and his love for his wife – together in a sunburst of 12 familiar and rarely performed gems. A true virtuoso, who counts the great classical flutist Sir James Galway as a diehard fan, McBirnie does not make many records. Consequently, each production is a work of several months (sometimes years) of painstaking selection and agonizing rehearsal which always yields a work of polished, honed craftsmanship.

This bejewelled 2018 masterpiece is a duet with another celebrated Canadian musician, the pianist Bernie Senensky. Both McBirnie and Senensky have acquired reputations for being fine craftsmen on their respective instruments, but while they are masterful virtuosos their music eschews ornament for the ornament’s sake. Instead their virtuoso flights are completely dedicated to the melodic beauty of the music, which is tossed from flute to piano in great flights of harmonic fancy.

To that end the two musicians infuse these 12 conventional songs – a variety of idioms and styles – with an intimacy and an emotional intensity which can only be described as the poetry of feeling; and there is no finer example of this than the performance of Charlie Haden’s First Song. There is a feeling that this record is ballad-like, but tempi often vary and songs often abound in quite startling dramatic contrasts with moments of lyric tenderness being followed by passages of tumultuous energy, always played with unruffled grace.

11 Hard Rubber OrchestraKenny Wheeler: Suite for Hard Rubber Orchestra
Hard Rubber Orchestra featuring Norma Winstone
Justin Time JTR 8614-2 (justin-time.com)

Though Kenny Wheeler left Canada for England in 1952, the distinguished composer/ trumpeter/ flugelhornist always maintained close relations with musicians and audiences here. In 2013, the year before Wheeler’s death, composer (and sometime trumpeter) John Korsrud commissioned Wheeler to compose a suite for Vancouver’s Hard Rubber Orchestra, an 18-member group Korsrud has been leading since 1990, debuting Canadian works from jazz to new music. Wheeler provided five movements, and Korsrud has sequenced them, adding improvised interludes.

The music is distinctively Wheeler’s, bringing a Hindemith-like richness and clarity to the big-band format to evoke joy and wistfulness, celebration and memory, then shading and mingling them with sometimes astonishing harmonic nuance. Singer Norma Winstone, a longtime collaborator, is an essential component of the orchestra, her wordless parts soaring through the massed brass and saxophones.

The music, too, is a celebration of the subtlety and art that Wheeler brought to the trumpet: two orchestral movements feature Mike Herriott, while the brief and lustrous interludes have Brad Turner improvising duets with bassist André Lachance, pianist Chris Gestrin and guitarist Ron Samworth. Among other soloists, tenor saxophonist Eli Bennett is aggressively creative on Movement I.  

The quality of the music is such that one doesn’t mourn, but instead celebrates Wheeler’s continuing presence – a national legacy that now stretches from Nova Scotia and the Maritime Jazz Orchestra’s Siren’s Song to the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra’s Sweet Ruby Suite to this suite for Vancouver’s Hard Rubber Orchestra.

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12 SeanceSéance
Philippe Lemoine; Simon Rose
Tour de Bras TDB9036cd (tourdebras.com)

Consisting of a dozen brief tracks that showcase the sweep of extended reed playing, Séance also confirms improvised music’s universality. French tenor saxophonist Philippe Lemoine and British baritone saxophonist Simon Rose, both Berlin-based, are on a Canadian label. Geographic considerations aside, the tracks, which last from just over one minute to almost six and a half, demonstrate that saxophone probing can be both penetrating and pleasing.

Hope River is the only track on which expected baritone and tenor tones are displayed with comforting familiarity; the others concentrate on testing as many reed tropes as possible. Sometimes, as on Worm Gill, it is tongue slaps; other times, as on Planchette, air is whooshed through horns’ body tubes without key movements, creating whale-like or bird-echoing textures; or on Now Séance the two fluidly modulate deep pitches to their farthest extensions without losing momentum.

Still it’s the longest pieces that meet the most reed challenges. Veering from squeaky to subterranean timbres during Dans(e) le flux, both burrow deep inside their horns for protracted rumbles that are cleverly harmonized with key percussion. Equally percussive as well as abstract, Medium is an essay in tongue slaps, key rattles, juddering cries and slurps that accede to a concentrated mass, but one in which both horns can be heard clearly.

Whether believing in contacting the deceased through a medium or not, this Séance is one in which many a saxophonist would want to participate.

14 Subtone MooseMoose Blues
Laika Records 3510366.2 (subtone.eu)

Moose Blues is the fifth album from the German jazz quintet Subtone, a collective whose members include Malte Dürrschnabel (reeds), Magnus Schriefl (trumpet), Matthias Pichler (bass), Peter Gall (drums), and Florian Hoefner, a pianist who, after years working in New York, now teaches at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Released on the German label Laika Records, and recorded following a Subtone tour of Canada earlier this year, Moose Blues is a tour diary of sorts: a reflection on time spent travelling throughout Canada, during which the group’s music was developed and refined.

Moose Blues begins with the Hoefner-penned Orbit, a propulsive, groove-based song featuring confident solos from Hoefner and Schriefl, bookended by dark, texturally lush sections. E-Nuts, a Schriefl composition, is a strong, swinging entry, with tight melodic playing from Schriefl and Dürrschnabel, and a concise, interesting bass solo from Pichler. Gall’s Alphabet City is a simmering, mixed-meter affair that showcases the group’s ability to juxtapose intensity and shifting dynamic levels, and Upside Up, written by Hoefner, is a sophisticated, bluesy 3/4 song, with satisfying playing both from the rhythm section and from the horns.

Subtone is a group with firm roots in the tradition of artists such as Lee Morgan, and the album’s final track – the titular Moose Blues – is as close as they get to a conventional hard bop aesthetic. The real charm of Subtone, however, is their ability to synthesize the performance practices of hard bop – strong rhythm section playing, tight horn lines, bluesy flourishes – with modern harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic ideas.

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16 Sphereology Vol 1 CoverPlays Thelonious Monk: Sphereology Volume One
Andrés Vial
Chromatic Audio Chroma 111417 (chromatic-audio.com)

2017 marked Thelonious Sphere Monk’s centenary, but 2018 seems to be the year it’s commemorated. There’s guitarist Miles Okazaki’s brilliant six-album digital set with all 70 of Monk’s compositions played solo, and pianist Frank Kimbrough is releasing quartet versions of them on six CDs (each adding three tunes to Monk’s Casino, Alexander von Schlippenbach’s 2005 journey through the complete works). Montreal pianist Andrés Vial is also taking on Monk repertoire, though this Volume One gives no indication of how far he might pursue the impulse.

A crisp, inventive pianist, Vial here leads two quartets with different rhythm sections, one New York-based, one Montreal, both good. He emphasizes less-played repertoire from Monk’s canon and does so hand-in-glove with guitarist Peter Bernstein. Both treat Monk’s distinctive rhythmic and harmonic language with respect, though Bernstein’s warm guitar tone sometimes softens the edges. However, they retain Monk’s essential quality, which might be characterized as divergence, an ability to embody contraries. Thus Bernstein manages to be both oblique and funky on the opening Bluehawk, while both he and Vial are cheerfully dissonant on Green Chimneys.

The approach is often reflective, never more so than on Ask Me Now, a pleasantly pensive duet by Vial and Bernstein, and the bluesy, late night quality extends to Light Blue. New York bassist Dezron Douglas contributes structuralist bass solos while Rodney Green recalls the melodic drumming of Monk associate Frankie Dunlop; Montrealers Martin Heslop and André White shine on the extended Functional.

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