Archive for November 3rd, 2014

Cynthia Felton – Save Your Love For Me


Title: Save Your Love For Me

Artist: Cynthia Felton

Label: Felton Ent.

Formats: CD

Release date: October 21, 2014

Los Angeles based vocalist Cynthia Felton, who holds a PhD in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California, burst onto the scene four years ago with a tribute album to Duke Ellington, followed by Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown, Jr. and Freedom Jazz Dance in 2012. This time around she’s paying tribute to one of her favorite singers, Nancy Wilson, “an elegant stylist of jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and pop” whose music is perfectly suited for Felton.  With a supple, four-octave range and a shimmering high register unusual in a jazz singer, Felton is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Save Your Love For Me: Cynthia Felton Sings the Nancy Wilson Classics includes 10 songs culled from five of Wilson’s albums recorded in the 1960s, five of which are drawn from the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly album. Felton chooses to open, however, with the short a capella intro “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” demonstrating her passion for studying the heritage of African American music as well as her R&B influenced vocal stylings. It’s a teaser to be sure, leaving us wanting far more than the allotted 35 seconds. From there she delves into Cannonball Adderly’s “The Old Country,” but in Felton’s arrangement the saxophone solos are given over to trumpeter Wallace Roney and guitarist Ronald Muldrow. Next up is the Mercer/Kern song “Dearly Beloved,” featuring Felton scatting along with Cyrus Chestnut on piano, while bassist Robert Hurst takes center stage in the midsection with an extended solo.

An equal number of ballads are interspersed throughout the album, including the sensuous title track where Felton is joined by Patrice Rushen on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. This A-list backing combo returns on one of Wilson’s signature storytelling ballads, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which rolls off Felton’s tongue like molasses as she injects darker timbres to reveal the pathos of a woman who discovers her man with another lover.  Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee” begins as a languid improvisation over the vibes of Ndugu Chancler, before settling in to a nice mid-tempo groove. Another delightful ballad, “Only the Young,” is notable for the trumpet riffs deftly interwoven by Nolan Shaheed.

Among the album’s highlights (though it’s tremendously difficult to place any one song above another) is Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues,” which showcases Fenton’s vocal agility as well as her ability to convincingly merge jazz, R&B and blues.  Another vocal tour-de-force is “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over,” with Wilson stretching the notes for maximum effect in tandem with tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. The album closes with “I Wish You Love,” which starts out with a luscious intro accompanied by the acoustic guitar of Ronald Muldrow, then settles into an up-tempo bossa nova anchored by Munyoungo Jackson on percussion.

Though covering a legendary singer like Nancy Wilson would be a mistake for many singers, Cynthia Felton is right on the money, imprinting her own unique style through her arrangements that contemporize these classic tunes in a very sophisticated manner. Make room in your music collection for this rising star!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

View review November 3rd, 2014

Jason Jackson – Inspiration


Title: Inspiration

Artist: Jason Jackson

Label: Jack & Hill Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 14, 2014


New York City trombonist Jason Jackson is not afraid to take risks, or take his time. Inspiration, his first album in thirteen years, was recorded over a period of ten years and in three different studios from Hollywood to New York. The album is well worth the wait. Jackson’s trombone skills are impressive, which is not surprising considering he traveled the world touring with Ray Charles for two years, and has been the lead trombonist in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band for a decade now. His composition and recording skills are also displayed on the album, with beautiful melodies and catchy rhythms that feel fresh and uplifting.

The opening track, “Brazilian Bop,” was inspired by Jackson’s travels in Brazil with Ray Charles, which is shown through its Latin percussion. The samba beat is emphasized by shakers throughout the song, and the saxophone solo by Don Oatts is smooth, as he effortlessly flies through many notes. The trombone solos by Jason Jackson and Slide Hampton are just as melodious, tranquil yet executed perfectly.

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Tracks such as “Salute to Mandela” and “El Husero” also include lively Latin rhythms. “Salute to Mandela,” composed by Daniel Jackson, starts with a trumpet fanfare and strings that sound like they should be announcing the arrival of a king from a far off land. Winds and percussion then enter the song, with Greg Gisbert’s bright trumpet soaring over an Afro-Cuban Latin pulse. “El Husero,” which means “the bull” in Spanish, is much slower and melancholy, with Jason Jackson’s trombone muted in the beginning. The song is dark and solemn, but beautiful nonetheless.

Jackson certainly has a variety of inspirations he draws from in the album. “Wake Up Election 2000” is about the outcome of the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. It has a lackadaisical vibe to it, with a standard swing beat, which reflects Jackson’s feeling that people were not “really awake and seeing what was going on” during the election. However, this full orchestra piece ends on a built-up, dramatic note, almost like an ominous cliff hanger.

The final track, “My Friend Sam,” was written by Jackson in remembrance of his best friend in high school, Sam Karam, who died in 2001 from multiple sclerosis. Sam’s father, Eddie Karam, wrote the arrangement of Jackson’s composition. The song is not a mourning track, but a celebration, with an upbeat piano intro by Michael Melvoin and the orchestra in full swing style.

Jackson’s undeniable talent on trombone is showcased in “Spring is Here” and “Tenderly,” both very slow and gentle songs accompanied by splendid strings and woodwinds. His solos in both songs are infused with soul and meaning, and are flawless in technique.

Inspiration is a delightful listen, and it’s a pity that Jason Jackson hasn’t stepped out from the background more often. Through arranging, soloing, and composing, Jackson has made it clear through Inspiration that he is a master of jazz.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Don Pullen – Richard’s Tune


Title: Richard’s Tune

Artist: Don Pullen

Label: Delmark

Format: CD

Release date: August 19, 2014


This disc, originally released by Sackville in 1975 as Solo Piano Album and now reissued by Delmark, was not only Don Pullen‘s first solo piano album, but also the first album of any kind released under his leadership.  By the time of this recording, Pullen had been on the scene for over 10 years, recording briefly with ESP-Disk avant-gardist Giuseppe Logan in 1964 and then, in a typically huge stylistic shift, serving as accompanist to a variety of R&B singers.  Pullen joined Charles Mingus’ band in 1972, contributing strongly to the great bassist’s acclaimed Changes One and Changes Two albums and fitting in beautifully with Mingus’ mélange of social-consciousness, gospel, swing, and freer styles.

All of these influences are on display in this wonderful debut.  The opening “Richard’s Tune,” dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams, combines a hummable melody with fleet stride- and bop-inflected elements before shifting into wild, dissonant tone clusters and percussive attacks.  “Big Alice,” one of Pullen’s best known compositions, is a funky, bluesy tune that Mingus had added to his band’s book and also recorded during the Mingus Moves sessions in 1973, although that version remained unreleased until Rhino’s CD reissue of Mingus’ album.  “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm,” Pullen’s tribute to Malcolm X, opens with bell-like intervals tolling in the treble register, and unfolds a haunting, lovingly harmonized melody before opening out into some extended spicy, free playing.  “Song Played Backwards,” as the title implies, is the freest track on the disc, featuring dense, dissonant chords played over various shifting rhythmic patterns.  The bonus tracks include “Kadji,” a majestic theme played over a two-chord vamp and somewhat reminiscent of “Big Alice” (which perhaps explains its omission from the album’s original release) and an alternate, slightly faster take of “Big Alice.”

Stuart Broomer, in liner notes dating from the 2000 Sackville CD reissue, describes the 1974-era Mingus band with Pullen as “…perpetually pitched at the edges of R&B and chaos,” an apt description of this music as well.  Taken as a whole, this solo recital shows the reach of Pullen’s far-ranging, creative, and musically mature mind.  It’s good to have this music back in circulation again, especially with the addition of the two bonus tracks.

Reviewed by Terry Simpkins

View review November 3rd, 2014

J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise – I See Victory


Title: I See Victory

Artist: J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise

Label: Entertainment One

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 27, 2014


With the release of their 7th project, I See Victory, the Stellar award nominated J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise continue a trend of creating music that is uplifting, accessible, and energizing. Unlike their previous work, the theme for this album was selected long before any of the material was written.  Hairston explains, “Years ago, I heard a message Bishop Joby Brady (Potter’s House North of Dallas, TX) preached and it was just saying you have to see what you want before you can go after it. I see myself with the victory over everything so I’m going after it and I believe I can have it because I can see it and all of the songs revolve around that theme.” I See Victory includes several special guests like VaShawn Mitchell, Donnie McClurkin, and Karen Clark Sheard who help this dynamic group articulate their message that all things are possible with God.

The first single, “It Pushed Me,” is a laidback mid-tempo song that explains how difficult circumstances can lead to personal transformation and triumphant success. It begins in a light-hearted unison stating, “God gave me a vision of where I would be, but he didn’t show me what I’d go through on the journey.” During the chorus, the song progresses to three part harmony emphasizing how life’s problems “pushed me into my destiny.” The second single from the project, “Bless Me,” features the distinctive leading voice of Pastor Donnie McClurkin. It is a simple prayer evocative of the reverent hymn “Lord, I Hear of Showers of Blessings” (1860) as they both offer the humble plea, “Even me, Lord bless me.” By the end of the song, modulations, chord inversions, and increased volume indicate growing enthusiasm as the singers celebrate God’s blessings.

While the primary theme of this album is “victory,” I suggest that the album’s secondary theme focuses on the “greatness” of God. Indeed, through most of the selections included on I See Victory, Hairston is stating that victory is possible because of God’s greatness. Just perusing the song titles – “You’re Mighty,” “You Are Worthy,” “You Are Great,” “Awe of You” – offers a glimpse into the tone of this project. Several of these songs creatively use pre-existing musical and lyrical material to offer contemporary interpretations of age old messages. For instance, “You Are Great” directly quotes the popular hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” Featuring the misty and colorful voice of Deon Kipping, “You Are Great” is bold and triumphant with a pulsating lead guitar and emphatic drums that establish a driving rhythm while syncopated horns accent the piece.

I See Victory closes with a bang, rounded off by two more traditional styled numbers. “Good to Me” is a slower tempo song expressing gratitude to God while “The Blood Still Works” is a high energy piece inspired by African American Pentecostal church styled praise songs that remind listeners that Jesus has power to intervene in any situation. On this album, J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise offer straightforward, inspiring messages through a variety of songs that will surely rock the (church) house and the airwaves.

Reviewed by Raynetta Wiggins

View review November 3rd, 2014

Kevin LeVar and One Sound – Destiny! Live at the Dream Center and More


Title: Destiny! Live at the Dream Center and More

Artist: Kevin LeVar and One Sound

Label: One Sound Entertainment

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 12, 2014


LeVar’s new album, Destiny! Live at the Dream Center and More, is basically a medley of religious genres featuring “songs of faith, hope and love that span a wide range of musical styles that include praise and worship, contemporary, old school R&B, light rock, big band, blues and country music.” This is verifiable in many tracks of the album like the upbeat and energetic “Trust You,” in the swing rhythm of “Get Out the Boat,” as well as in the bluesy and waltz-like “Jesus Blues.” The song “I Wanna Be Close,” principally accompanied by piano, feels like a call to contemplation with the next track, “Close (Reprise),” serving as a follow-up musical commentary. The contemplative mood of these songs overflows into the next two numbers, “All We Need is a Word” and “Still, Such an Awesome God,” that are basically worship tracks. The number “Spoken Word” is an ecstatic verbal exhortation that leads to the songs “Whatever It Takes,” “Are You Ready?,” “Best Days,” and “Ready Set Go.” These tracks serve as ‘musical incitement’ to the listener to move from worship to engage actively in the service of God that involves doing his will and following his guidance at all cost.

In an interview with Donnie McClurkin Radio Show, LeVar states that the first (and the signature) track of the album, “Your Destiny,” was a product of a divine inspiration—an answer to a prayer for perseverance in his quest of a life of righteousness in line with the Word of God. But it also serves as the generative track from which other already mentioned pieces of the album ensue, as it were setting “the stage for the remaining songs on the CD” in which one finds “a rare combination of worship, anointing and musical genius.” The last track, “Born to Be Great,” serves as a climax to LeVar’s call to persevere, precisely because perseverance necessarily leads to greatness.

Another pivotal masterpiece of Destiny is the cool jazzy track “A Heart That Forgives,” which was released on LeVar’s first album Let’s Come Together:

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This song was performed at the White House in 2011 to launch LeVar’s Forgive and Live campaign “which seeks to inspire millions acts of forgiveness,” and has since become a breakthrough hit.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review November 3rd, 2014

Nathan Best – Center of My Life


Title: Center of My Life

Artist: Nathan Best

Label: Higher Calling / Megawave

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 9, 2014


It is an established fact that in African and African derived cultures, many life decisions and life activities of the present moment are based on vivid reminiscence of the past. In his first solo contemporary gospel album, Center of My Life, Grammy-award winning vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nathan Best (The O’Jays, Fairfield Four) comes forward with the musical fruits of his reflection on “some lessons that I thought would make me bitter, but instead it made me better, thanks to my relationship with God.” And so one hears him singing about his past life on the fifth track “God Forgave Me:” ‘I have done some things I am not proud… God forgave me for it and He gave me another chance.’ The same theme of regret for the past echoes from the tracks: “You’re So Good To Me” and “Where Would I Be.”

Indeed, Nathan sees his past as a kind of Pharaonic bondage from which God liberated him as is evident from the prime track, “Pharaoh,” that interweaves modern pop sound with a dramatic recitation of the story of the interlocution between Moses and God on the one hand, and Moses and Pharaoh on the other. The divine liberation from the hopelessness of bondage prompts songs of gratitude which becomes the focus of the track, “Thank You.” At a point this piece assumes the mien of gentle rap.

Nate titles the second track of his album “Nathan’s Symphony,” a veritable compact jazz ‘sinfonia’ with conspicuous piano feel leading to the album’s signature piece, “Center of My Life,” equally structured along the lines of jazz but standing mainly as a worship song. Surprisingly and without any alert, the fourth track, “Our Love Song,” shifts the emphasis from divine worship to romantic love. It was a special dedication to Nate’s beloved life partner “Sherry, my soul mate and best friend.” This is probably his way of connecting divine love to human love, the former operating powerfully in the latter within the context of marriage.

Center of My Life concludes with three pieces dedicated to spiritual and moral advice. “He’s Always There” is a call to look on and call upon the friend who is always there, Jesus. The track “Talking About My Jesus,” with its piano only accompaniment, is an admonition to turn from human beings back to Jesus who puts the straying on the right track. It is only in this way one can enjoy the blessing which God has in store for his children, as seen in the swinging final track, “God Has a Blessing,” featuring the St. Matthew’s Church Choir.

Reviewed by Jude Orakwe

View review November 3rd, 2014

Goapele – Strong as Glass


Title: Strong as Glass

Artist: Goapele

Label: BMG

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: October 21, 2014


American soul and R&B singer-songwriter Goapele has just released her fourth studio album, Strong as Glass, and it is shattering the music scene with fresh hip-hop songs and slow jams. The 10-track CD, though short, is packed with hits that you can easily put on replay.

The first track and album namesake, “Strong as Glass,” is a powerful and meaningful intro for the album, a sure hit with women all across the board. The song has a noticeable build-up of sound that adds strength, so by the end there’s a full belt of instruments and vocals, making a stellar opening. Goapele knows how to keep her listeners entertained and does so by following up with “Hey Boy,” which is an instant pop hit in my opinion. She simultaneously intertwines old time groove with classic instrumentals, topped off with the fresh addition of veteran rapper Snoop Dogg. Her smooth voice adds the perfect attitude to this fun, sexy, catchy song:

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Goapele continues this trend with “Insanity,” which opens with a classic R&B intro but digresses into relatable, honest relationship based lyrics that attract women of all ages. This track will want to make you close your eyes, sway, put a beat-snapping hand up in the air, and say, “Girl, I feel you!”

“Perfect” features more creative lyrics, such as “Too many souls have died/pretending that we’re alright. Wish I could seep into your veins/take the pain away/be your great escape.” The music is simple, but Goapele really shows off her vocal range that blends so well with a unique remix beat in the background. On her next track, “What in the World,” the sophisticated diva introduces her first slow jam of the album, showing even more depth to her beautiful voice. This song will surely bring forth raw emotions from deep in your soul and is the gem of the album. Likewise, “Some Call It Love” takes a break from rough R&B beats and features more of a gospel sound. The listener can tell this is an emotional song for the singer and that transmits well through the flow of music.

“Last Days” is one of the more calming songs on Strong as Glass, with a minor psychedelic rhythm that corresponds well with the drawn out notes from Goapele. The final song, “Truth Is,” is a solemn end to the album, though it picks up at the hook and continues into the chorus. Again, Goapele is so honest with her words singing: “Truth is/I don’t really know about trust/but I know that I’m jaded/my patience is fading. And I don’t really know about us/ but I hope we can braid it/ and make it.” The song has such simple lyrics with just enough cleverness to make them interesting. “Truth Is” fades out for the last minute or so to silence, making you wish there was another song that would burst into your headphones.

Strong As Glass is another successful album from the classy, soulful singer Goapele. Fans and newcomers to her music should be very excited for what she comes up with next.

Reviewed by Briana Stewart

View review November 3rd, 2014

Myles Sanko – Forever Dreaming


Title: Forever Dreaming

Artist: Myles Sanko

Label: Légère Recordings

Formats: CD, MP3, LP

Release date: September 16, 2014


English singer and songwriter Myles Sanko creates soul music with a jazzy feel, starting with his debut EP Born in Black & White, which was released last year. His latest album, Forever Dreaming, is just as masterful and inspiring as his first release. Sanko’s soulful voice is reminiscent of artists such as Jamie Cullum and Aloe Blacc, and he infuses hope and passion into every song. This positive album truly lifts the listener’s spirit through heartfelt lyrics accompanying jazzy soul music.

The title and first track, “Forever Dreaming,” is a spirited and upbeat song that acts as an anthem for the album. The bright brass of saxophone, trumpet, and trombone emphasize the joy of lyrics such as “Circumstances are nothing new / my dreams can come true.” The song is undoubtedly sentimental, but jazz elements make it feel catchy rather than cheesy.

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“Light in My Hand” is an effortless track, with a chill vibe that echoes that repeated phrase “Surely I don’t mind the rain falling on my window pane.” This relaxed feel is an extended crescendo, building to the end of the track when Sanko’s voice changes from laid-back to passionate, filled with grit and soulful exclamations. This truly brings a whole new level of soul to Forever Dreaming.

Another upbeat number, “To My Surprise,” has a fast paced beat that carries the song along as Sanko sings about the joy of finding love after heartbreak. The highlight of this track is the jazz flute, an element that was popularized in soul-jazz music by Bobbi Humphrey.

Though the music is still upbeat, “Save My Soul” has a different kind of feel with its desperate lyrics. Infusing elements of rock and jazz with an electric guitar part and more flute, it’s one of the stand out tracks on the album. The complexity of the transitions, styles, and lyrics emphasize the depth of Sanko’s talent beyond happy and optimistic songs.

Sanko’s message that “it’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting” is emphasized through the optimism and upbeat feel of Forever Dreaming. With a voice that is both smooth and gritty, relaxed and passionate, Myles Sanko is a soul artist worth keeping an eye on.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

Chris Jasper – The One


Title: The One

Artist: Chris Jasper

Label: Gold City

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 19, 2014


Chris Jasper has enjoyed nothing less than an extensive career, boasting 10 solo albums, 12 albums as a member of the Isley Brothers, and 3 with the short-lived group Isley-Jasper-Isley. A renowned keyboardist, writer, producer and classically trained musician, Jasper’s talents were instrumental in the success of the Isley Brothers as he was the primary writer and producer from 1973-1983. He continued in this vital role in the group Isley-Jasper-Isley. Since stepping out on his own in 1987, Chris Jasper has recorded 10 albums, including his most recent release, The One, which continues a lengthy recording career that is likely nowhere near an end.

Jasper’s solo career is a balanced dialogue between his R&B roots from his time with the Isley Brothers and his forays into gospel. The first of his solo albums, Superbad generated a #1 debut single in the album’s title track, but it was this third album, Praise the Eternal released in 1992, that presented a shift in his musical output. From that point forward he began regularly recording gospel albums. As a result, of his ten solo albums, half are gospel albums.

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On The One, Jasper shifts back to his R&B roots with an album that’s a mix of love and inspirational songs.  Tracks such as “The One,” “Still in Love,” “Kiss Me,” and “Your Love” explore the many vital characteristics of sustained loving relationships.  But he sparks a fire with more up tempo tracks, including as “Rock the Foundation” and “Man Up.” Jasper’s more inspirational tracks include a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and a hopeful song proclaiming that there will be peace on earth, entitled “Peaceful Again.”  This album is not without religious and gospel influences; for example, the track “Right Now” proclaims humanity’s need for God.

Overall, The One remains steadily within the lane Chris Jasper has paved for himself since his solo debut, mixing R&B with inspirational messages.

Reviewed by Christina Harrison

View review November 3rd, 2014

Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review – Originals


Title: Originals

Artist: Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review

Label: Shift Independent

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: December 3, 2013


Gary, Indiana born blues artist Quinn DeVeaux formed the Blue Beat Review after he moved to California’s Bay Area in search of authentic, down-to-earth music. A profound lover of rock ‘n’ roll and the Rolling Stones, DeVeaux also developed an appreciation for the blues when searching for the origins of rock music. This diverse background and passion for multiple genres  led Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review to develop their own style that they call “blue beat,” featured on their 2011 debut album Under Covers. Their second release, Originals, is a “rollicking set of upbeat tunes” and unique music that combines genres such as Delta blues, folk music, rock, and swing.

“Left This Town” clearly displays this mixing of genres, with a 1950s rhythmic section paired with 1930s style swing piano and brass. It has the feel of Southern blues with lyrics lamenting the troubles of living in an impersonal city. According to DeVeaux, the song is about an earlier period when he lived in Los Angeles, a city in which he felt estranged, and missed the friendliness of the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States.

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“Raindrops” has a tropical vibe and features the harmonious female background singers Ahsati Tyehimba-Ford and Latriece Love, whose sound is like a mix of Supremes-style vocals with “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. The melancholy lyrics are much sadder than anything else on the album, once again displaying DeVeaux’s penchant for experimenting with different styles.

The rocking “Kids on Fire” is backed by a bluesey piano part, creating a unique and catchy song. Though the verses are sung solely by DeVeaux, the chorus is backed by the whole group, with the repetitive phrase “Oh, you know the kid’s on fire” functioning as a call and response throughout the song. Weaving a somewhat ridiculous story about a kid’s adventures in Oakland, which includes meeting the Pope, this track is extremely fun both lyrically and musically.

Originals offers catchy music with a homey, rustic feel, showcasing the fun, upbeat side of Quinn DeVeaux & the Blue Beat Review, who take a multitude of old styles and turn them into something new.

Reviewed by Anna Polovick

View review November 3rd, 2014

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