23rd Oct2014

25 Years of Mr Bongo

by ukvibe

mrbcd124highresMr Bongo started life in 1989 as a small record shop underneath Daddy Kool’s Reggae Store on Berwick Street in London. They were the first shop to sell vinyl releases from independent hip-hop labels such as Def Jam, Rawkus, Nervous and Big Beat outside of the USA. They also became the established bearer for hard-to-find, classic Latin music, particularly Brazilian, outside of the Americas.

Out of this basement a thriving Latin shop was born and supplied music for salsa dancers, Latin Jazz addicts and Brazilian groovers. Such characters as Giles Peterson and clubs such as Dingwalls championed this music and in the following years Mr Bongo established itself as the leader and provider for whole scene.

In 1991, Huw Bowles entered the Mr Bongo fray bringing his own encyclopaedic knowledge of hip-hop, expanding Bongo’s field of expertise. Initially selling old skool and hip-hop, the shop was the first to start selling music from small independent hip-hop labels from around the world in the UK (artists such as Jurassic 5 having special Bongo pressings). This pioneering spirit revived the waning interest in hip-hop and also started to bring focus to home-grown talent. As the independent scene grew Mr Bongo exclusively imported the first releases by Dr Octagon, J5, Mos Def and many more.

Ray Barreto opened much needed new premises in Lexington St. as the Latin section expanded. Always expanding its field of vision and expertise, the Mr Bongo store moved again, to its final premises in Poland St., Soho. Now fully established, it was not unusual for queues around the block on Saturdays, caused by stocks of their exclusive vinyl.

The shop also initially acted as home to the Mr Bongo record label and the later formed imprints; Disorient and Beyongolia. In 1995 the Bongo empire expanded into Japan, opening a store in Tokyo, providing a useful A&R source for Disorient. After a two year crusade Bongo’s secured the soundtrack rights to the classic hip-hop movie Wildstyle and released two LPs from the film on Beyongolia.

The label and publishing operation moved to Brighton in 2001. From their seaside base Mr Bongo have been responsible for discovering and breaking some of the world’s most exciting new talent, as well as reissuing sought after classics and rarities that have gone on to become collectors items in their own right. Looking through the label discography is like digging into a treasure trove. Mr Bongo’s eclecticism married with their unshifting focus on quality has resulted in celebrated releases from artists such as Terry Callier, Jorge Ben, Joyce, Marcos Valle, Seu Jorge, Labi Siffre, Hollie Cook, Karol Conka, Prince Fatty, Ebo Taylor, Lula Cortes, and The Incredible Bongo Band. It may have been these artists that introduced you to the world of Mr Bongo, or it may have been through their legendary Brazilian Beats compilation series, but whatever the introduction, we can guarantee there are countless other classics in the catalogue for you to discover. And the releases keep coming with the recently launched re-issue labels Brazil 45s and Latin 45s creating a whole new generation of Mr Bongo fans.
This compilation is a celebration of the label’s work from 1989 – 2014; Mr Bongo classics on disc one and the future of Mr Bongo on disc two.

Tracklisting:

Disc One (Mr Bongo Classics)

01 Incredible Bongo Band – Apache (Grandmaster Flash Remix) 02 Seu Jorge – Carolina
03 Hollie Cook & Prince Fatty – Milk And Honey
04 Doris – Did You Give The World Some Love Today Baby
05 Terry Callier ft. Massive Attack – Wings
06 Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – African Problems
07 Ebo Taylor – Heaven
08 C.K. Mann & His Carousel 7 – Asafo Beesuon MEDLEY (Gruff & Grey Edit) 09 Fab 5 Freddy – Down By Law
10 Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space
11 Os Ipanemas – Nana
12 Wilson Siminal – Pais Tropical
13 Trio Mocoto – Swinga Sambaby
14 Tom Ze – Sao Sao Paulo
15 Lula Cortes E Ze Ramalho – Beira Mar
16 Blo – Chant To Mother Earth

Disc Two (Mr Bongo Future)

1 Hollie Cook – Looking For Real Love
2 Mungo’s Hi Fi – Scrub A Dub Style Ft. Sugar Minott (Prince Fatty Remix) 3 Horseman – Computer
4 Karol Conka – Boa Noite
5 Junip – Oba La Vem Ela
6 Olli Ahvenlahti – Grandma’s Rocking Chair
7 Hareton & Meta – KM 110
8 Juca Chaves – Take Me Back To Piaui
9 Jorge Ben & Toquinho – Carolina, Carol Bela
10 Pete Rodriguez – I Like It Like That
11 Beny Moré – Babarabatiri
12 Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock

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21st Oct2014

DJ Tudo e Sua Gente de todo Luga ‘Pancada motor-manifesto da festa’ (Far Out) 3/5

by ukvibe

dj-tudoFar Out records have pioneered contemporary Brazilian music, but for this latest release have gone slightly left-field for an album of music that both digs deep into the traditional sounds of north-east Brazil and gives these rhythms a decidedly modern feel fused with dub effects. The project is the brainchild of DJ Tudo aka Alfredo Bello, a DJ who during the 1990s dance culture craze made London his home and soaked up the myriad influences of the dance scene at the time, but his other musical hat is that of musicologist and during the periods 2003-2009 and 2102-2013 he went around the north-east of Brazil in particular recording local traditional music styles and he deserves a good deal of credit for this. Here he has enlisted the support of London’s very own dub maestro Mad Professor and a fusion of Jamaican reggae and Brazilian grooves is not as unlikely as one might expect. Musicians such as Olodum and Gilberto Gil have regularly sampled Jamaican music, though it is true to say that an international audience has not warmed to such fusions and generally prefers a more conventional samba-based groove. Quite possibly a Brazilian equivalent of the Congotronics sound is what DJ Tudo was searching for and to a certain extent he has succeeded on the dub-infused opener ‘É hoje é hoje’ which has something of an African feel to it with rustic male vocals. There are blues inflections on ‘Traveler’ which is a street march from Marujda and again driving percussion is a feature of this instrumental. Afro-Funk is in evidence on ‘Meu Natural’ with rock-influenced guitar while the pared down ‘Nico’s dream’ has some wah-wah guitar effects and a bass line right out of classic Jamaican dub with dubbed horns for extra effect. Perhaps for devotees of the genuinely rootsy sounds of Brazil what might have enhanced the overall feel of this project is to include both the original versions and their dubbed versions. There are some truly exceptional and seldom heard rhythms contained on this album and it is a pity that the listener is not afforded the opportunity to hear them in their original glory. That said, this is still a worthy release and fans of dub who enjoy some exotic musical backdrop will find a good deal to enjoy here.

Tim Stenhouse

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20th Oct2014

Willie Hutch ‘In Tune’/’Midnight Dancer’ (Real Gone Music) Separate CDs both 4/5

by ukvibe

willie-hutchSinger-songwriter and guitarist Willie Hutch was simply too talented a musician to ever fit neatly into any one category. His falsetto vocals beg obvious comparisons with Curtis Mayfield, but during the 1970s Hutch transformed his career from being a skilled songwriter for others (‘I’ll be there’ for the Jackson Five, ‘California my way’ Fifth Dimension and even a debut LP for the Miracles) to a solo career of some distinction. By the beginning of the 1970s he had already recorded two albums as a leader for RCA, but it was his mid-1970s stint at Motown that really brought his name to prominence, notably with two classic soundtracks to Blaxploitation movies, ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘The Mack’. These combined elements of classy soul and gritty funk to perfection and have long been favourites of music fans, DJs and samplers in equal measure. However, in 1977 Willie Hutch left Motown for a new endeavour with ace producer Norman Whitfield. Of course Whitfield himself was behind some of the classic early 1970s grooves at Motown, especially the psychedelic masterpieces that are ‘War’ for Edwin Starr and ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ for the Temptations. It was with this background that Whitfield sought to update the Hutch sound for the late 1970s disco explosion that incorporate elements of the earlier Whitfield formula. In truth Hutch’s voice is simply too soulful to ever be considered a disco clone, but there was nonetheless a conscious attempt to gear his music to the dance floors and this was always measured by some superior quality balladry. The two albums under consideration here date from 1978 and 1979 respectively and represent the twelfth and thirteenth albums of his career as a whole. Thus Hutch was no novice, but rather an experienced artist and Whitfield sought to compliment his mellifluous voice with some of the crème de la crème of L.A. musicians including what remained of the Funk Brothers (aka the Motown rhythm section) of Jack Ashford, Eddie ‘Bongo’ Brown and Melvin ‘Wah Wah’ Watson. Factor in string arrangements by Gene Page, vocalist from groups Lakeside and Stargard and the results were always likely to be a critical success.

The first album, ”In Tune’ is noteworthy for the stunning ‘Easy does it’ which has one of the subtlest of keyboard riffs imaginable and yet effortlessly cooks up a head of steam in the process. In a funkier vein and with a definite nod to ‘Papa was a rolling stone’, ‘And all hell broke loose’ features some of the distinctive percussion and clavinet sound that Norman Whitfield productions were famous for. This is repeated on ‘All American Funkathon’ which sounds as though Hutch was listening to the updated Curtis Mayfield sound of the mid-1970s and is a heavyweight soul tune. Only ‘Come on and dance with me’ sounds in retrospect a little dated and a too contrived attempt at disco glory. Hutch and Whitfield must have discussed the extent to which they were prepared to go towards disco and on ‘Hi shakin’ sexy lady’ it is as if the disco-fied intro which then gives way to psychedelic soul is an indication that 100% disco was not on their radar. Gorgeous keyboard vamps make this a winner of a tune. Rounding out proceedings were two classy ballads in ‘Paradise’ and ‘Anything is possible if you believe in love’. The second album followed in a similar vein, though the elongated uptempo numbers veer more to disco than previously as do some of the song titles. That said, arguably the strongest album cut here is the mid-tempo ballad ‘Never let you be without love’ that surely owes a debt of gratitude to the Isley Brothers and is a truly inspirational number. For uptempo soul, ‘Everyday love’ is a strong melodic piece while there is a nod to Latin music in the intro to ‘Down here on disco street’ with lovely rhythm guitar riffs. Again there is one number that sounds a trifle dated,’ Everybody needs money’ in terms of the disco bass line, but the lyrics are just as relevant as ever. Of the other two ballads on offer, ‘both ‘Kelly green’ and ‘Deep in your love’ showcase that instantly recognisable Hutch voice.
The major question remains of why these albums were not more significant hits at the time, particularly since Whitfield was obviously scoring major successes with Rose Royce and there are definite hints of that band’s instrumentation in some of the songs contained on these two albums. Maybe Hutch was just too associated with the earlier 1970s era to be regarded as a bona fide dance artist, or maybe it was simply that with the success of Rose Royce and, to a lesser extent Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch did not receive the promotion he fully deserved. Whatever the case, these two albums generally stand the test of time remarkably well and include some hidden gems for lovers of deeper soul ballads and uptempo grooves alike. Willie Hutch would continue to record into the 1980s when he briefly returned to Motown and scored another club hit in the UK with ‘Inside Out’. He passed away in 2005.

Tim Stenhouse

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15th Oct2014

Mammal Hands ‘Animalia’ CD/Dig (Gondwana) 4/5

by ukvibe

mammal-handsEast Anglia may not be an obvious location for jazz, but trio Mammal Hands have come up with one of the year’s unexpected melodic gems of a recording that cuts across the boundaries of world roots, jazz and contemporary classical with just a touch of folk. They are the brainchild of Norwich born brothers Jordan and Nick Smart who perform on saxophones and keyboards respectively while Jesse Barrett handles drum and assorted percussion. If the evocatively titled opener ‘Mansions of millions of years’ sets the scene for what is to follow with some minimalist piano and soprano saxophone and is an undoubted album highlight, then the laconic winter-like sound of ‘Snow Bough’ is equally impressive. The languid, rolling piano and lyrical saxophone on ‘Spinning the wheel’ is positively ECM-esque while for a change of tempo, the percussive-led ‘Sweet Sweeper’ conjurs up the maelstrom of urban surroundings. Influences are diverse and include African and North Indian music as well as Steve Reich and Pharoah Sanders. There are shades of a Michael Nyman soundtrack on the folk-infused ‘Kanadaiki’. What marks this trio out is the excellence of the compositions as well as a tightly knit sound. A performance with the Gondwana Orchestra at Ronnie Scott’s in mid-July was the first taste of the ensemble sound in a live context at a major venue and will surely be a foretaste of further performances across the country. A group to definitely watch out for.

Tim Stenhouse

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14th Oct2014

Jason Moran ‘All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller’ (Blue Note/Decca) 4/5

by ukvibe

jason-moranPianist Jason Moran has made a reputation both as a leader and sideman, but he enters new territory on this thoroughly modern update on the canon of work by Fats Waller. The genesis for this project was Moran becoming artistic director at the Jazz at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. While occupying this function, Moran received an artistic command by New York arts venue the Harlem Stage Gatehouse to create a tribute to master of the stride piano, Fats Waller. In order to achieve this objective, Moran has enlisted his regular trio of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits as well as an additional horn section. However, the more contemporary R & B groove flavour is supplied by both producer and singer Meshell Ndegeocello who recorded her own modernised homage to Nina Simone in 2012. Vocal duties are generally shared between Ndegeocello and singer Lisa E. Harris. It should be self-evident by now that strictly speaking this is not a jazz album per se, though Moran does afford himself some soloing as the album progresses. Moran and Ndegeocello have clearly spent a great deal of time reflecting on how to adapt these famous tunes to a contemporary setting and on the uptempo staccato beat of ‘Yacht Club Swing’ this works a treat with the leader extending out on electric piano. One of the more successful transpositions is of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ that has a blues accompaniment on piano and some tasty horns whereas the more sedate interpretation of ‘Ain’t nobody’s business’ with gentle female lead by Harris sounds a little artificial and even odd. The nearest Moran comes to his usual sound is on the excellent solo piano of ‘Lulu’s back in town’. A gentle electric piano and male vocal on ‘Two sleepy people’ helps create an intimate setting and the number builds up into a mid-tempo groove complete with horns. As a fascinating aside to the project, Jason Moran recorded this project at the age of thirty-nine, precisely the same age at which Fats Waller prematurely departed this world. In live performance Jason Moran adopts a papier mâché mask of Waller’s head complete with bowler hat created especially for the pianist by Haitian artist Didier Civil.

Tim Stenhouse

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12th Oct2014

Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics ‘Jaiyede Afro’ LP/CD/Dig (Strut) 4/5

by ukvibe

orlando-julius-heliocentricsNigerian musician Orlando Julius first came to international attention back in 2000 with a sumptuous on Strut re-issue of his ‘Super Afro Soul’ album plus bonus tracks which revealed an artist who was listening to the then contemporary sounds of James Brown as well as forging a new modern style of his native country’s music. It is certainly the case that Fela Kuti owes Julius a debt of gratitude in creating what has now come to be termed Afro Beat.

Fast forward several decades and in the last fifteen years saxophonist, singer and composer Julius has enjoyed something of a renaissance with a 2003 album ‘Orlando’s Afro Ideas’ and more recently Orlando Julius and his Afro Sounders recording ‘Voodoo Funk’. Enter British based band the Heliocentrics who have become something of a house band for the Strut label and in particular have backed Ethio-Jazz star Mulatu Astatke on some excellent albums in recent times. For this latest project the idea was to include a mixture of reworkings of older material taken from the formative period in Julius’ career with some newer compositions and this works by and large extremely well indeed and crucially has an authentic feel throughout. A key number is ‘Love thy neighbour’ with a stunning intro and this unquestionably hits the spot with some the funkiest licks on the entire album. Fans of the classic Afro Beat style will be delighted at ‘Be Counted’ while there are even shades of James Brown’s soul on the intoxicating ‘Buju Buju’ where the instrumental prowess of the band on keyboards is displayed to full effect before the leader himself sets off on an extended solo. The title track incidentally is noteworthy for its interesting lyrics that allude to the boyhood musical exploits of Julius. A UK tour is likely in 2015 and this writer for one is looking forward immensely to hearing this band in a live context.

Tim Stenhouse

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11th Oct2014

Los de Abajo ‘Mariachi Beat’ (Wrasse) 4/5

by ukvibe

los-de-abajoMexican roots meet rock, electronica and more besides band Los de Abajo personify the eclectic approach to music in twenty-first century Mexico and this latest project is an intriguing one for it is a modern update on the myriad traditional sounds of the country. No single CD could ever capture the sheer diversity of music available in Mexico, but this covers quite a few styles and in a thoroughly contemporary setting. One of the strongest numbers is the funk-tinged ‘Ya me voy’ which has Latin percussion and horns that might reasonably grace a salsa recording. Equally there is a salsa feel in the intro to ‘Toro y Regina’ where flamenco and modern drum beats collide to great effect. For some rootsier material, the fast paced ‘Cicatrices’ works extremely well with lead singer Tania Melo in the ascendancy while the sound of the accordion, often associated with the Tex-Mex genre, is heard on ‘Mexicano’. Cumbia is a hugely popular style that Mexicans have in the first instance borrowed from Columbians and then made into their own unique variety and Los de Abajo expertly fuse this with some Chic-esque rhythm guitar on the opening section of ‘Turn Off’. Only the rock-electro flavoured ‘Downtown’ disappoints to any extent with the melody lost amidst the instrumentation, though even this may track be club land destined. For jazzier flavours, the flute and saxophone in the intro to ‘Mexican Underdogs’ impresses with the title a nod, perhaps, to the famous Charles Mingus autobiography title and a musician who regularly sampled Mexican music in his own work. All in all a typically fine album from a group at the heart of Mexico City’s creative hub.

Tim Stenhouse

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10th Oct2014

Various ‘Real World 25′ 3CD box set/Dig (Real World) 4/5

by ukvibe

real-world-25Former Genesis musician and lead singer and producer Peter Gabriel is a pioneering figure on the world roots music scene and it was by no means an obvious choice to create his own recording studio near Bath in the 1980s, launch the now annual and internationally prestigious Womad festival back in 1982, and then launch a brand new label towards the end of that decade devoted to promoting the music of hitherto relatively unknown musicians from other countries throughout the globe. Twenty-five years on and we have a celebration of those efforts with the release of a box set devoted to just some of the music contained on the Real World label. One could argue that even three CDs barely touches the surface, but importantly it does go beyond the surface to provide an excellent overview of some of the names, now household, established musicians in some cases, and yet still relatively unknown in other cases, that have graced the studios.

Probably one of the biggest critical as well as commercial successes have been the various albums recorded by Pakistani devotional music legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, both in collaboration with Western musicians of the calibre of Michael Brook and with Khan’s own band. For the former category, ‘Mustt Mustt’ is quite simply a world roots fusion classic and never fails to encourage listeners to dance in enjoyment while ‘Sweet Pain’ focuses on his more meditative side. Sheila Chandra typifies the approach of the label and scored a major pop hit with ‘Ever so lonely’, proof that in the right setting world roots music could reach out to a wider non-specialist audience. Africa has frequently featured on the label and from the east of that continent in Tanzania comes Remmy Ongala and the Orchestra Super Matimila with a recording that fully stands the test of time. Acoustic African folk flavours can be heard from Daby Touré hailing from Mauritania on ‘Iris’ while one of the continent’s most compelling voices of dissent against corruption, Thomas Mapfumo, is most deserving of a place. Attempts to specifically target Western audiences with a more pop-friendly sound were the raison d’être for Congolese superstar singer Papa Wemba’s presence and, though differing from his sound aimed at his compatriots, this is nonetheless music of great interest and integrity.UK-based bands that specialise in fusing world roots styles have been regular participants and among these we find the Afro Celt System, Juju and Imagined Village where folk and world roots musicians have met and worked together in total harmony, another major underlying theme and objective of the label’s creator. More recently the Creole Choir of Cuba have recorded a wonderful album showcasing the Haitian influence on music in eastern Cuba and enjoyed a triumphant tout of the UK, and thus it is only fitting that they should be represented here. Elsewhere, Los de Abajo from Mexico, Värttina from Finland and even Tibetan musician Yungchen Lhamo all contribute to the intoxicating cultural mix.

One could argue about the omission of some musicians who have recorded for Real World. Tabu Ley Rochereau would have been a worthy participant as would Cuban big band Orchestra Revé while Irish flautist extraordinaire Matt Molloy and live recordings from his ever musical pub in County Mayo would have added some Celtic flair to proceedings. That said, it is still the case that this anthology is representative of the plethora of music on the Real World label and the world roots scene as a whole should be externally grateful to Pete Gabriel for having the foresight and courage to chronicle so much of it.

Tim Stenhouse

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09th Oct2014

Jochen Rueckert ‘We make the rules’ (Whirlwind) 3/5

by ukvibe

CDDG6T1-002.pdfThis marks the debut album on Whirlwind for German drummer, composer and leader Jochem Rueckhert and he has been New York resident since 1995, and is now an integral part of the jazz music scene there. Among others, Rueckhert has worked with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Seamus Blake and Sam Yahel. For this debut, he has enlisted tenorist Mark Turner who is very much in demand, electric guitarist Lage Lund and acoustic bassist Matt Penman. Overall, if the musicianship is excellent, then the compositions need to be refined and improved upon in order to sustain repeated listens and remain memorable. That said, there are some lovely understated melodies here and these include the pretty sounding ‘Saul Goodman’ with fine tenor work from Turner in unison with Lund. Meanwhile the opener ‘Eggshells’ hints at late 1960s Wayne Shorter in outlook from around the ‘Schizophrenia’ album period and is an intense number with an extended guitar solo and some impassioned tenor playing. One slight weakness as a whole is the tendency of guitar and tenor to perform together when the ensemble seems to work best with one or the other out. Leader Rueckhert excels on the polyrythmic ‘Yellow Button’ where once again Turner evokes early period Shorter on tenor. A promising start nonetheless.

Tim Stenhouse

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08th Oct2014

Louis Sclavis Quartet ‘Silk and Salt Melodies’ (ECM) 3/5

by ukvibe

louis-sclavis-quartetFrench multi-reedist Louis Sclavis has a portfolio like no other and this is partly because of his range of influences that borders on the wildly eclectic. Thus a touch of French baroque in Lully and Rameau is likely to be juxtaposed with free jazz and contemporary minimalism and this has alienated some listeners in the past. His formations vary considerably, but on this latest recording he has taken on board one of the young Turks of the French jazz scene in Alsatian keyboardist Benjamin Moussay whose influences are quite different to the leader and include Headhunters era Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Lenny Tristano among others. A mightily impressive concert performance at the Manchester Jazz Festival a couple of summers ago revealed what a fine leader Moussay is and he has a very promising future ahead of him if his participation here is anything to go by. As ever, Sclavis aims to surprise the listener and for those who might be wary of his wilder side, they would do well to listen to the introspective piece ‘L’autre rive’ with a minimalist piano intro and then the leader enters for what proves to be a memorable duet. In fact, this writer would welcome a whole album of duets between the two, so natural is the empathy between them here. In stark contrast, the dub-like percussion of ‘L’homme sud’ features an extended clarinet solo from Sclavis and cascading piano rolls from Moussay on this most uplifting of numbers. Ambient guitar from Gilles Coronado greets the listener on another introspective composition, ‘Le parfum de l’exil’ which hints at ‘In a Silent way’ in certain respects while the guitarist engages in some interaction with percussion on ‘Dances for horses’. In general there is a dark, brooding atmosphere to the music on offer that may not appeal to all and not necessarily the lightness of touch that one might expect from a French musical formation. It should be said in fairness that this album is slightly more accessible than Sclavis’ previous recordings, but will still require repeated listens for all that.

Tim Stenhouse

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