New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Saxophonist Kenny Shanker Nails an Edgy NYC Vibe, With an October 29 Hell’s Kitchen Show

Lots of vivid, frequently edgy, tuneful straight-up New York portraiture on alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker‘s new Posi-Tone album Action City – streaming at Spotify - with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 29 at 8 PM at the brand new Room 53, 314 W 53rd St. between 8th and 9th Aves.

Everything here centers around a tight piano/sax/bass/drums pulse. The first tune, Times Square is an interesting one – it seems to offer some shelter from the bustling rush hour crowd outside, Eckroth spinning an intricately enticing web away from the driving latin groove until Shanker brings it back with a similarly swirling but more angst-fueled intensity. It paints a good picture, albeit without the sketchy life-size Hello Kittys.

Another Morning is all about urbane chillout swing, Shanker’s carefree vibrato sailing over Eckroth’s precise, purposeful chords and spacious tradeoffs with the drums. This seems to portray the kind of stainless steel counter place where they break out the martinis starting at around noon.

Summer Siesta is a deliciously catchy, biting cha-cha, and not the least bit sleepy. The title track is a brisk stroll, everybody in the band occasionally stepping out of time as we do from time to time on a busy sidewalk: Eckroth’s bluesy, stride-inspired solo is especially choice. Punch isn’t the smackdown you might expect, but a very attractive slow soul groove, Eckroth firing off some tasty blues/gospel licks. Donald Fagen would kill to have written this.

Eckroth stays in the spotlight through the spacious, stately, neoromantically marching Prelude, which gives way to Shadow Dance, a cool jazz waltz where the sax does exactly that to the piano. The most striking track here is Midnight, crescendoing on the wings of some blue-flame eights from Shanker until Eckroth takes it back into the back of the bar where everybody’s still hanging after closing time. Marble Hill offers a no-nonsense but warmly congenial, nocturnal North Bronx tableau – it would have made a good nostalgic tv theme back in the 70s. Tortoise & the Hare scampers along as Shanker and Abe flurry and bob, a contrast with the balmy boudoir ballad Riverbank at Dawn: hey, outdoors is cooler in the summer. Interestingly, Shanker winds up the album with a catchy, dynamically-charged Philly soul groove titled Snow Paws. You don’t have to be a New Yorker (Shanker’s not) to appreciate this. But it helps.

The Wytches Burn Their Way Through New York

It’s a good week to see dark rock bands from out of town. Umpteen acts may reach for a menacing vibe, but British trio the Wytches actually nail theirs. The punk-inspired, dead-end desperation in frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell’s voice is so raw that it at least sounds like the real thing. And their narratives are all the more believable for being free of any kind of goth/ghoul cliche. They’ve got a savagely brilliant new album, Annabel Dream Reader – streaming at Spotify - and a clusterfuck of CMJ shows coming up. If assaultively doomy punk, horror surf or Lynchian sounds in general are your thing, you’ve got six chances to see this band in the next few days. Tomorrow, Oct 22 they’ll be at Glasslands at 9; on Oct 23 at Rough Trade at 3 in the afternoon and then at Baby’s All Right at 11 at night. They return to Baby’s All Right at one in the afternoon on Oct 24, then they’ll be at that free show at the Knitting Factory at four the same day (beware because the rsvp means you’ll get spammed). But you won’t have to get spammed in order to catch them when they return to Rough Trade at 7 on Oct 25.

The album’s opening track, Digsaw builds out of a squalling intro to an horror surf-tinged verse and then a screaming chorus over bassist Daniel Rumsey’s growling, trebly lines: you can hear some Jesus & Mary Chain, and Stranglers, and maybe Coffin Daggers, but more stripped-down than any of those acts.Wide at Midnight follows a creepy, Lynchian wammy-bar sway dripping with reverb; then the band makes horror surf out of a familiar Ventures theme.

Gravedweller is the best song here, a macabre zombie scenario with a reverb-tank menace that brings to mind Wooden Indian Burial Ground. Fragile Male for Sale blends the wet, poisonous reverb-tank echo with darkly distorted 60s psych riffage, while Burn out the Bruise has a snidely echoing sway until its desperate, screaming chorus kicks in.

“She shines a light from side to side, in my eyes it reflects from the corner,” frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell intones as the growly Transylvanian gothic anthem Wire Frame Mattress gets underway – and then the band makes surf rock out of it. Beehive Queen hits a slashingly sarcastic, slightly skronk-infused spaghetti western gallop, then they bring it down with Weights and Ties, a slow waltz with a little vintage PiL cached in its amped-up wee-hours Lynchian ambience.

The disarmingly catchy Part Time Model paints a disquieting tableau of what might be a S&M brothel – or the set of a snuff film, punctuated by the occasional muted gunshot burst from Bell’s reverb tank. The album’s longest track, Summer Again, another waltz, is all the more crushing for offering a hint of hope.

Robe for Juda builds a catchy garage rock tune out of a wicked chromatic riff and then hits an explosive, metalish crescendo. Crying Clown blends Orbison noir with an unhinged, doomed tableau straight out of the Doctors of Madness catalog. The album ends with a brief folk noir ballad simply titled Track 13. In a year that’s seen amazing albums by Karla Moheno and Marissa Nadler, and with Big Lazy‘s haunting new one still not out yet, this might be the best of them all. Miss these guys at your peril.

Two Cool Singles and a Funny Video

A lot of people send  videos and singles here. Most of those folks aren’t playing New York anytime soon, so those videos and songs sit…and sit…and sit. While it’s not likely that any of that stuff is going to go stale, there comes a point where it’s old news…meanwhile, all those songs are screaming to be heard. Songs are like people, you know?

So over the next few weeks, prepare to be bombarded by a steady stream of them, a few at a time, so as to keep you entertained without being overwhelmed. Here we go!

The Chemistry Set reinvents the Hendrix classic Love or Confusion as an Indian jam (soundcloud)

Mail the Horse’s Yer So Gone is a Rhodes-fueled noir blues song with some killer unhinged Steve Wynn style guitar (also soundcloud).

And here’s a LMFAO moment via youtube: watch the bartender pour the world’s shittiest drink at :39. The crappy autotune pop song isn’t worth hearing, but that scene is priceless.

Richard Galliano Brings His Meticulous, Animated Accordion Jazz to Town

As obscure subgenres go, accordion swing is pretty close to the top of the list. Accordionist Richard Galliano tackles that methodically and animatedly on his latest album, Sentimentale. He’s celebrating the release with a four-night stand leading a quintet at the Jazz Standard,Oct 23-26, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30; cover is $25, $30 on the weekend, Galliano is known for his ability to effortlessly leapfrog between idioms, from the baroque to tango to Romany jazz without missing a beat. This time out, he leads a pretty straight-ahead jazz session with Tamir Hendelman (the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra pianist, who wrote most of the arrangements), guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Carlos del Puerto and drummer Mauricio Zotarrelli.

Much of it is a 21st century update on how French and Belgian musicians were mashing up American jazz with their own vaudeville and barroom folk sounds back in the 20s and 30s, notably the opening track, Chick Corea’s Armando’s Rumba, which puts a continental spin on a song that was already a bit outside the Afro-Cuban tradition. The group immediately brings it down from there, adding an organic touch to Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour’s Canto Invierno, then tackling Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood with a lilting rhythm yet also with a similarly distant pensiveness – the accordion is one of the alltime wistful/bittersweet instruments, and Galliano owns that feeling when he chooses to go there.

Galliano’s take of Horace Silver’s The Jody Grind draws less on the original than Dee Dee Bridgewater’s boisterous version; likewise, the Broadway ballad Why Did I Choose You follows Bill Evans’ coloristic reharmonizations. There are two originals here, the jazz waltz Balade Pour Marion and the closing cut, Lili, a tender ballad dedicted to Galliano’s granddaughter and done as a guitar-accordion duo. Hendelman’s arrangements are remarkably contiguous, more than just a platform for soloing, which there isn’t a lot of here.

The group gently bounce their way through The Island and Verbos de Amor, adding some bulk to the songs’ tropical balminess, then pair hard-charging swing with more pensiveness on Plus Fort Que Nous. They do the Coltrane classic Naima as surprisingly weird psychedelia with a guitar sitar (?!?), then go back to the tropics with Mantiqueira. All this is a good indication of what the band will sound like here, maybe allowing for a little more guitar, which won’t be a bad idea since Peter Bernstein will be filling that spot. And you’ll have to go to the show to hear it since the album isn’t anywhere to be found on the web.

Assessing Tamara Hey’s Intensive, Practical Music Theory Class

One aspect of the New York music scene that this blog hasn’t covered until now is music education. You can get as high-level training as you want in this city…if you can afford it. But you also don’t have to come from robber baron money to take advantage of some of the opportunities available to musicians who are hungry for practical knowledge.

It might be an overstatement to say that you get a semester’s worth of music school out of one of Tamara Hey‘s intensive Alphabet City Music workshops, but there’s still an enormous amount of material packed into a five-week course. Hey describes her Basic Theory 1 class – which this blog attended the previous time it was offered – as a way to learn to read and write music, understand keys, transpose melodies, create a basic charts for songs, and have fun in the process. All of this is true…and there’s much more to it.

Be aware that Hey’s courses, taught in small groups with plenty of attention to students’ individual needs, are not for people who want to goof off in class or skip homework. On the other hand, if you want to get the most bang for the buck, you’re committed to learning a great deal of useful information in a short period of time, and you’d rather not spring for a huge student loan or pay conservatory tuition, these courses are a real bargain. The Basic Theory 1 with an Intro to Chart Writing Workshop will be offered again beginning on Tuesday, Oct 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM and continuing weekly through December 2; the classes are located close to the Astor Place 6 train station and 8th St. N and R stations.  No advance payment is required for preregistration.

And the material you get for outside of class is just as substantial: there are exhaustive ear training exercises based on a vast library of mp3s – enough work to keep you busy for a whole night – and also a workbook that enables you to build your understanding intuitively . It nudges you along so that if you don’t get something the first time around, you will the second time if you’re paying attention. Yes, there’s homework, every week, and yes, you’re expected to participate in class. That’s how it is in an elite conservatory environment, the kind where Hey received her training. But this is a lot less stressful and more fun.

Hey’s bona fides are her education (she’s a Berklee grad), her background (twenty years of teaching, beginning in her undergrad days) and her own tunesmithing. Her songwriting is catchy, counterintuitive and urbane to the nth degree, spiced with humor and clever puns. Maybe somewhat ironically, she’s not the cutup in class that she can be onstage. Leading a workshop, she’s all business. Don’t expect to be ignored in class: she likes to get a handle on what your individual goals and reasons for studying are and will direct her attention to you when a topic or device is particularly applicable. Her approach is friendly and down-to-earth but very focused.

What was class like? Intense. Hey moved through the material methodically, using examples from the past five decades of music as diverse as Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Cheap Trick and Tom Petty (remember, this was an introductory course). Who takes these classes? The students in this one included one of New York’s elite rock songwriters, who is now performing choral music as well; a longtime sideman with designs on leading a group and therefore in need of a refresher course in chart writing; a busy jazz singer, who was able to fix a messy chart in a pinch at a high-profile gig based on information learned in this class; a beginner singer-songwriter and guitarist; a retired pianist, and a nonmusician. While there wasn’t the kind of competition you might find in a music school environment, being around good musicians is like being in a band with them: they’ll push you to take your game to the next level. And there was plenty of that, with lively debate over technical issues, and terminology, and the minutiae of notating a melody, which Hey arbitrated with considerable relish. Moments like those are clearly fun for her, and she made them fun for the class as well.

Vicious Austin Garage Punks the OBNIIIs Hit New York For a Couple of Shows

The OBNIIIs may be from Austin, but their sound is a lot more Detroit, 1979. Or for that matter, Sydney, 1979. They’re one of a select few bands who’ve been able to capture the ferocity and menacing, chromatically-charged brilliance of legendary Australian-via-Detroit garage punks Radio Birdman. They get one of the best guitar sounds of any band on the planet, a deliciously screaming, natural distortion-fueled burn. And as you would expect, they’re a volcanic live band. They’ve got two recent albums out, one a delicious live set, and a couple of NYC shows coming up. On Oct 24 they’ll be at Baby’s All Right in south Williamsburg guessing at around 11 (the club calendar doesn’t say) and the following day, Oct 25 at Cake Shop at 5 PM for free. Much as they deserve to headline a venue like Bowery Ballroom, there’s nothing like being up close to their overdriven amps in a small club.

The Live in San Francisco album – streaming at Bandcamp - is the latest one. They open with Off the Grid, which draws a straight line back to the Stooges’ Search & Destroy. Runnin’ on Fumes opens with an unhinged Tom Triplett lead guitar line straight out of the Cheetah Chrome playbook and pounces along with a Train Kept a-Rollin-on-crank intensity. So What If We Die takes the Iggy vibe a couple of years forward toward the Kill City era: “California smokes too much weed,” frontman/rhythm guitarist Orville Bateman Neeley III randomly informs the crowd as the song nears the end.

New Innocence mashes up  garage-rock changes with more off-the-rails leads from Triplett. After putting a heckler in his place, Neeley leads the band into more post-Yardbirds stomp with Damned to Obscurity. “I gotta get me a new line of work ’cause this don’t exactly pay,” he muses on the stomping Birdman-style party anthem Uncle Powerderbag. The band jams raggedly while Neeley taunts the crowd – the guy is funny – and then winds up the show with No Time for the Blues, the most evilly Birdman-ish song of the night.

Third Time to Harm – also streaming at Bandcamp – is the studio album before that. To their credit, it sounds just as live as the concert album. The version of No Time for the Blues on this one has Triplett ripping through volleys of chromatics like Deniz Tek back in the day. And the version of Uncle Powderbag has studio-clear lyrics, which helps – we all know somebody like this guy. Maybe it’s us…yikes.

The band gets slightly more calm on The Rockin’ Spins, a Flamin’ Groovies soundalike. They go in an unexpectly metalish, growling direction with the long instrumental intro to Queen Glom until bassist Michael Goodwin goes way up to the top of the fretboard and signals a turn into Brian Jonestown Massacres-style murk. They follow that with Beg to Christ, a macabre mini-epic that brings to mind Blue Oyster Cult or the Frank Flight Band - or the Radio Birdman classic Man with Golden Helmet.

From there they segue into the similarly ghoulish, goth-metalish Brother, propelled by drummer Marley Jones’ brontosaurus thump. Parasites goes in more of a snide roots-rock direction, like the Del-Lords. They bring back the Birdman savagery with Worries, a sarcastically apocalyptic number that’s the the best one here. If adrenaline is your thing, it doesn’t get any better than this.

A Pensive, Quietly Dynamic, Relevant Album of Japanese-Tinged Themes from Kojiro Umezaki

Kojiro Umezaki‘s axe is the shakuhachi, the rustic Japanese wood flute, an instantly recognizable instrument that can deliver both ghostly overtones and moody, misty high midrange sonics. Umezaki’s background spans the world of folk music and indie classical – he’s a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble -and is a frequent collaborator with groundbreaking string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Umezaki also has an album, Cycles, out from that group’s violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s maverick label In a Circle Records and streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of originals along with reinvented themes from folk and classical music. As you might imagine, most of it is  quiet, thoughtful and often otherworldly, a good rainy-day listen.

The opening track, (Cycles) America reimagines a theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony as a solo percussion piece for Joseph Gramley, who opens it on drums with hints of majestic grandeur, then provides loopily resonant vibraphone. The album’s thoughtfully spacious second track, 108 is where Umezaki makes his entrance, joined after a terse, slowly crescendoing intro by Dong-Wan Kim on janggo drum and Faraz Minooei on santoor. It builds to a swaying and then rather jauntily dancing groove with hints of South Indian classical music as Umezaki chooses his spots.

The traditional Japanese lullaby that follows is as gentle – and ghostly – as you might expect from a melody that could be a thousand years old, a graceful solo performance. Umezaki then delivers a circular, uneasily looping piece modeled after a famous 1923 post-earthquake work by Japanese composer Nakao Tozan, bringing it into the present day as a tense, distantly angst-ridden contemplation of a post-3/11 world.

On For Zero, Gramley plays lingering vibraphone  interspersed with the occasional emphatic cymbal crash or fuzzy wash of low-register synth. The album’s final track is a new version of a collaboration with Brooklyn Rider that originally appeared on the quartet’s 2010 album Dominant Curve, alternating between raptly inmersive atmospherics and edgy interplay between the quartet and the wood flute, a shakuhachi concerto of sorts.

Brooklyn Rider’s Latest Album Capsulizes Their Paradigm-Shifting Sound

For the past few years, Brooklyn Rider have pushed the envelope pretty much as far as a string quartet can go, and in the process have raised the bar for other groups: they transcend any preconception about what serious composed music is all about. Their latest album, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac – streaming at Spotify - is their most ambitious effort yet, and may well be the one that most accurately captures what the group is all about. They draw on a wide composer base, including their own members, an A-list of mostly New York-based players and writers across the musical spectrum, from indie classical to Americana to rock and now even jazz.

It’s also a dance album in many respects – pianist/flutist Diana Wayburn‘s similarly eclectic Dances of the World Chamber Orchestra also comes to mind. Beyond the rhythms – everything from funky grooves to waltzes and struts and the hint of a reel or a stately English dance – dynamics are everything here. The pieces rise and fall and shift shape, often with a cinematic arc. The first track is Rubin Kodheli‘s Necessary Henry!, the group – violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords and cellist Eric Jacobsen – establishing an ominous/dancing dichotomy out of a stormy intro. It may have originally been written for Kodheli’s snarlingly majestic cello metal band Blues in Space.

Maintenance Music, by Dana Lyn shifts from a lustrous fog with distant echoes of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to a slow waltz and then a chase scene – it’s the most cinematic piece here. Simpson’s Gap, by Clogs‘ Padma Newsome makes a good segue, an Appalachian ballad given bulk and heft with fluttering echoes, as if bouncing off the mountain walls and down into the valley below.

The Haring Escape, by saxophonist Daniel Cords veers from swaying, echoing funk, to slowly shifting resonance, to an aggressive march. Aoife O’Donovan’s Show Me is akin to something Dvorak would have pieced together out of a gentle Hudson Valley dance. Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer‘s Dig the Say gives the quartet a  theme and variations to work, a study in counterrythms, funky vamps bookending a resonantly atmospheric interlude.

There are two pieces by indie rock drummers here. Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier – most recently witnessed  trying his best to demolish the house kit at Glasslands a couple of weeks ago – contributes the most minimalist piece here, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche’s Ping Poing Fumble Thaw being more pointillistic. The album continues on a kinetic path from here until the very end, through Ethan Iverson‘s Morris Dance – which blends contrastingly furtive and calm themes – then Colin Jacobsen’s Exit, with Shara Worden on vocals, a triumphantly balletesque, swirling, rather Reichian piece. The most rhythmically emphatic number here is by Gonazlo Grau, leader of explosive psychedelic salsa band La Clave Secreta. After Christina Courtin’s raptly atmospheric Tralala, the quartet ends with a warmly measured, aptly pastoral take of John Steinbeck, by Bill Frisell.

A Long Overdue Appreciation of a Great Defunct Powerpop Band

In a career that spanned the better part of three decades, Skooshny played a grand total of one live gig. It was an Arthur Lee benefit.

That pretty much sums up what this band was all about. But a lack of gigs didn’t stop them from making great albums. Frontman/guitarist Mark Breyer, guitarist/bassist Bruce Wagner and drummer David Winogrond started right around the time punk was getting off the ground, finally packing it in sometime in the late zeros. Undeterred, Breyer continues as Son of Skooshny, releasing both new material and somewhat more lush versions of old Skooshny favorites. For a taste of where this cleverly lyrical, purist tunesmith is these days, check his Bandcamp page.

Although their substantial catalog is still in print, probably the best introduction to the band is their lavish 2004 best-of collection streaming at Spotify, coyly titled Zoloto, Russian for “gold” (the band name means “boring”). As you might expect, they have a cult following in Russia, and for many years were popular with the Bucketfull of Brains crowd. The songs span the band’s career, beginning in 1978, although the tracks don’t follow any kind of chronological sequence.

As a singer, Breyer pushes his airy voice to the limit without breaking: craft is one of this band’s defining qualities. Wagner is the rare guitarist who knows that less is more, and Winogrond’s stadium-riser drums are integral to the group’s often majestic sound. Lyrically, Breyer writes in the same vein as Elvis Costello or Steve Kilbey: he can’t resist a double entendre or a wry pun. And like those two, he’s a psychopathologist, dissecting relationships with a finely honed scalpel.

Alcohol is a frequent prop in Breyer’s bitter tableaux, right from the first few lines of the wickedly catchy Even My Eyes, which borrows an old Alice Cooper riff and reinvents it as vintage Cheap Trick-style powerpop. Flawed depicts a romance that was doomed from the start, over a tune that would be perfectly at home in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog.

Beautiful Bruise has a tasty blend of twelve-string and electric guitars, a ponderous waltz beat and a painterly (pun intended) Breyer lyric. The band bring in wistful Britfolk ambience with Sad Summer Spring and follow that with the even more gorgeously melancholy Holy Land, a vividly metaphorical passenger’s tale. Private Jokes nicks a classic Elvis Costello riff and beefs it up: it’s the hardest-rocking track here other than Masking the Moon, which finally goes over the edge into raw rage.

Science Changes Everyone has one of Breyer’s more clever lyrics…and a trick ending that totally blindsides you. The Water Song is the saddest number in the collection: it’s something of a more low-key update on the Stones’ Paint It Black. I See You Now maintains a jangly, Churchlike melancholy edge, while Ceiling to the Lies is the closest thing to 70s radio rock here.

Wagner takes over vocals on No Life Story, which could be a Stiv Bators ballad, and the epically aching, intense, Kevin Ayers-ish  Lullabye. And Michael Penn makes a guest appearance, playing jaunty chamberlain – which sounds like the flute setting on a mellotron, appropriately enough – as well as bass on the low-key Dessert for Two, which he also produced. It makes a good segue with Mike Thompson’s organ intro on the otherwise much more roughhewn It Hides More Than It Tells, the first of the 1978 tracks.

I Never Change My Mind sounds like the Church circa 1984 covering a catchy psych-pop hit from 1967 or so, while You Paint My World evokes that band’s jangly originals from the 80s, particularly when Wagner’s solo kicks in. And the guitarist also wails on the snarling post-Byrds anthem Crossing Double Lines. The last of the 25 tracks here is Clicking My Fingers: “Sterno in a paper cup, drink up, we’re having a party,” Breyer sardonically orders over a backdrop that’s part Byrds, part Magical Mystery Tour. Including an unexpectedly elegant cover of Davie Allan & the Arrows’ psychedelic pop classic Angel with a Devil’s Heart makes sense especially considering Wagner and Winogrond’s longtime membership in Allan’s band. What’s most striking about these songs is how consistent they are: clearly, the three had a vision and stuck with it throughout a career that deserves more than cult status.

Different Styles, Same Cruel City

Don’t believe the hype: The corporate media may gush about all the twee tourist traps, and the NYPD brass may perform all kinds of statistical voodoo to help keep the real estate bubble going, but New York remains a dangerous city. There are two new singles out that reflect that, very memorably, and neither is the slightest bit nostalgic.

Give Trigger Me by the Rebel Factory a spin. Co-written by guitarist Joe Nieves and his late brother Gus – a Vietnam veteran – it slowly builds a menacing late 70s Lower East Side ambience. A slowburning, noisy guitar solo takes it to an incandescent peak, like the Dead Boys but slower and more focused. Nieves’ ominous baritone drives this doomed story home.

Fly Free, by New York rapper Curzon, is just as haunting. Over producer Canis Major’s moody, vintage RZA-style backdrop, Curzon traces a death-obsessed narrative from the streets to his own family. As a lyricist, he’s more concerned with telling a story, painting a picture, than he is with verbal gymnastics, closer to Guru than Biggie (although each seems to be an influence). We need more smart wordsmiths like this guy.

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