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EFG London Jazz Festival 2019, Day Ten, Sunday 24th November 2019..

by Ian Mann

December 17, 2019

Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by Led Bib, Asha Parkinson, Tara Cunningham. Isobella Burnham and Eddie Gomez.

Photograph of Eddie Gomez sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website

EFG London Jazz Festival 2019

Day Ten, Sunday 24th November 2019.


2019 proved to be a momentous year for Led Bib, the band led by the American born drummer and composer Mark Holub.

“It’s Morning”, their second album for the London based RareNoise record label represented a radical departure for the band with the first line up changes since its formation in 2004 and the first use of vocals and lyrics on a Led Bib recording.

Led Bib was founded at Middlesex University and the band have always relished their ‘outsider’ status on the British jazz scene. Strongly influenced by John Zorn their music has historically combined the power of rock with a passion for improvisation, resulting in a blend of ‘skronk’ or ‘punk’ jazz that invited comparisons with such bands as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear and Get The Blessing and which resulted in an expanding cult following.

I’ve been following Led Bib’s music since 2006 after first discovering the band on a hot and sweaty night at the Vortex in North London. The enterprising quintet were curating their own mini festival dubbed the “Dalston Summer Stew”. The series was spread over three nights and I witnessed the first of these shows which featured sets from Led Bib themselves, a solo slot from that remarkable maverick of the piano Matthew Bourne and finally a second sonic attack from Nottingham noiseniks Pinski Zoo. Subsequent evenings featured the bands of Chris Batchelor and Iain Ballamy among others.

Led Bib themselves were loud and uncompromising but I enjoyed what I heard and purchased a copy of their début album “Arboretum”. I was most impressed by this and it remains something of a personal favourite.

In 2007 the band followed this with the equally impressive “Sizewell Tea”, which saw them broadening their range. Indeed every Led Bib album release has seen them building on their initial template and exhibiting clear signs of artistic growth. Initially Holub was the group’s sole composer, with the exception of the occasional inspired cover by the likes of David Byrne and David Bowie, and he has remained its principal writer. However later recordings have seen other group members bringing compositions to the table, expanding the range of the group, albeit within a well defined sonic framework. Interestingly enough “It’s Morning” is the first album to contain the credit “all music by Led Bib”, suggesting a radical change in the group’s working methods.
The first Led Bib album that I reviewed was the 2009 release “Sensible Shoes”, which received a Mercury Music Prize nomination and helped to raise their profile considerably. 2011’s “Bring Your Own” consolidated their position and was their most melodic record to date, while 2014’s “The People In Your Neighbourhood” saw them stretching out once more and placing a greater emphasis on the improvisational side of their music, an aspect explored even more deeply on the limited edition live recording “The Good Egg”.

Something of a hiatus followed with Holub re-locating from London to Vienna and concentrating on other projects, such as the trio Blublut (with Austrian guitarist Chris Janka and American theremin specialist Pamelia Stickney) and his duo with violinist Irene Kepl. The other members of the band also kept themselves busy, with Williams particularly active as a sideman with a broad range of jazz acts and the Israel born Donin forming his own 1000 Boats group, with which he released the excellent 2018 album “8 Songs”.

In 2017 Led Bib re-convened to release “Umbrella Weather”, their first album for RareNoise after a lengthy stint with Cuneiform Records. Suitably rejuvenated the band produced some of their best, and most dynamic, work on an album with a distinct political subtext. In the wake of Trump and Brexit Holub commented “there’s such a shit-storm outside it’s certainly Umbrella Weather”

Over the course of the last two years I’ve spoken to both Williams and Donin at gigs by other artists (Arun Ghosh, Sarah Gillespie, 1000 Boats) and both have told me that Led Bib have been working on something very special and that the next album was going to be very different to anything the band had ever recorded before.

On the evidence of “It’s Morning” one can hardly disagree with their assessment. The departure of the band’s original pianist and keyboard player Toby McLaren has seen the young, maverick talent of rising star Elliot Galvin added to the fold. Galvin had occasionally depped for McLaren and had obviously proved himself a good fit for the band.

Of even more significance is the expansion of the core line up to included singer and lyricist Sharron Fortnam, whose mezzo soprano vocals have been featured on recordings by the North Sea Radio Orchestra (of which she is a co-founder) and the bands Cardiacs and The Shrubbies.

Holub has said of his band’s change of direction;
“Led Bib has developed an identifiable improvisation language over the last fifteen years. After all that time we started to wonder what it might be like to take that language into a whole new area”.

The music of “It’s Morning” represents a collaboration with American film director Dylan Pecora whose concert length movie was projected behind the group as the band played. Originally this afternoon’s event had been scheduled to take place at Led Bib’s spiritual home, The Vortex, but it was felt that the rather splendid setting of the Rio Cinema, Dalston’s proudly independent art deco picture house was more appropriate. Thanks to Lee Haynes of Rolling Press PR for organising tickets for my wife and myself for this event.

“I want our shows to feel like Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests” explains Holub, “I’m hoping people will be transported somewhere else. The experience of just sitting down and being engrossed in something for an hour is a meaningful thing”.

The drummer has also mentioned the influence of ‘psychedelic’ bands such as Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead.  Although there’s little in Led Bib’s music that draws directly from those groups there still remains something of a conceptual link.

As a long time champion of Led Bib and their music, and after everything I’d been told by Williams and Donin I just had to be present at this event. I’d already heard the album of course, and most of the preceding paragraphs have been lifted from my review, but the prospect of experiencing the full package, music AND film was irresistible.

Before we got the main part of the programme we enjoyed another audio-visual experience, the short ten minute film “Picture The Light”, directed by the painter Rebecca Salter and with a soundtrack by Max de Wardener.

I first heard de Wardener’s name when he was the bassist with trumpeter Tom Arthurs’ Centripede group, a band that also featured the talents of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.
De Wardener appears on the rather splendid Centripede album released on the Babel label back in 2003. He has since become a composer of some note, operating in the field of contemporary classical and experimental music and his work has been heard on Radio 3’s much missed Late Junction.

De Wardener is a talented multi-instrumentalist and presumably played some of the instruments on the soundtrack. The music featured both Western and Eastern instruments and includes the sounds of the traditional Japanese reed instrument the sho, alongside clarinet, koto and the cello of his long term collaborator Oliver Coates.

His ambient music complemented Salter’s images exploration of the medium of drawing, the artist / film maker taking inspiration from the works of the experimental New Zealand artist Len Lye. Salter’s experiences of living in Japan also found their way into the images, and hence into de Wardener’s music.

Patterns on a white background developed into amorphous humanoid shapes, a bit like the figures on the cover of Steely’s Dan’s “Countdown to Ecstasy”,  while blocks of colour metamorphosed into images that resembled ancient maps. The musical accompaniment included ambient, electronic keyboard drones, while elsewhere dulcimer like sounds combined with Coates’ melancholic cello, underpinned by pizzicato double bass.

De Wardener’s soundtrack was atmospheric and effective and the blend of Easter and Western instrumentation interesting. It served the visual images well, but ultimately the film itself did little for me, I was far more interested in the music.

To be honest that last observation applies to “It’s Morning” too. Led Bib lined up in semi-darkness in front of the cinema screen with Mark Holub on drums,  Sharron Fortnam on vocals Liran Donin on electric bass and electronics,  Elliot Galvin on keyboards and the twin saxophones of Chris Williams (alto) and Pete Grogan (tenor & alto). The use of tenor saxophone also represents another significant departure for the 2019 edition of Led Bib. Previously the band has been noted for the ferocity of its twin alto sax attack. The addition of tenor, particularly in conjunction with Fortnam’s vocals and lyrics represents a radical change to the group sound.

Today’s event saw Led Bib performing the “It’s Morning” album in full but expanding upon the recorded version via numerous improvised passages. Meanwhile VJ Oli Chilton manipulated the film footage, thus creating a situation where sonic and visual improvisations were being created side by side.

Album opener “Atom Stories” commenced with the sound of Donin’s electric bass in conjunction with Galvin’s keyboards. These two created a wash of spacey, ambient electronica to which Fortnam’s fragile vocals, with their under sea lyrical imagery, were eventually added, together with the gentle piping of the twin saxophones, Grogan on tenor and Williams on alto.
On the screen images of plant life slowly unfurling in time lapse photography were superseded by those of a sleeping, bearded human, in running gear, by a fence.

“Atom Stories” acted as a kind of overture and the band kicked things up a gear with “Stratford East” as Galvin established a glitchy synthesised bass pulse and Grogan and Williams unleashed the familiar Led Bib double sax barrage as Holub finally took the opportunity of attacking his drum kit.  As Grogan soloed on tenor the Led Bib juggernaut kicked into full swing with a malevolent power that was reminiscent of King Crimson at their best. Meanwhile Fortnam’s soaring vocals sang of music, time and memory while the accompanying visual images ranged from swirling waters to electrical circuitry, to bare hands digging in the ground, to a woman apparently suffering from dementia and to the mysterious, bearded Lennon like figure in the woods.

The Title track of “It’s Morning” is in truth little more than a cameo but the lyric “Time is a Haunting Memory” then led us into “Fold”, arguably the album’s centre piece, a meandering, episodic piece that commenced with an atmospheric episode featuring Williams’ alto in conjunction with Galvin’s eerie electronics, the visual images depicting gowned / boiler suited figures in a hospital or laboratory, possibly undergoing some form of therapy or some kind of ecstatic religious experience. Then it was time for Led Bib to stoke the fires and unleash the juggernaut once more before seguing into “Cutting Room” floor, with its lyrics making direct reference to the filmic nature of the “It’s Morning” project.

“To Dry In The Rain” is the most obviously song like piece Led Bib have ever done with Fortnam’s sweet vocal asking “Show me how you saw the light”. On the screen a hand beckoned to the boiler suited figures through theatre curtains, all bar one of whom climbed on to the stage and disappeared, their faces morphing into one as Fortnam sang “I know where you are” and the music itself gained an authentic momentum.

The set played out through the shorter tracks at the end of the album, the atmospheric largely instrumental “O” followed the song “Flood Warning”, which effectively contrasted the purity of Fortnam’s voice with the harshness of the band’s music. Finally we heard the brief, elegiac “Set Sail”.

Musically I enjoyed today’s performance very much. Fortnam’s voice has brought a new dimension to the Led Bib sound but there are still plenty of snarling, full on passages to keep long term fans happy. Central to the success of this current project was the partnership between Donin and Galvin, who were positioned next to each other on the stage and who combined extremely effectively, particularly with regard to their use of electronics. Galvin, the impish ‘mad scientist’ seems to be the perfect fit for this band, an injection of new blood that promises well for the future.

To be honest I didn’t quite know what to make of the film itself and sometimes found it distracting. The links between the music and the visual images weren’t immediately obvious, although one suspects that both the band and Pecora probably wanted it that way, clichés aren’t what either of these artists about, but I did find it hard to make any real narrative sense of the film. Maybe I’m just being thick and somebody will correct or enlighten me. The band themselves played in semi-darkness so it wasn’t always easy to see what was going on musically, despite my having a front row seat. Taking notes was difficult too.

Nevertheless I very much enjoyed what I heard and the song cycle that is “It’s Morning” would work just fine as a stand alone musical work if the band decide to take it out on the road without the visuals. With Fortnam and Galvin on board it will be very interesting to see what Led Bib decide to do next.


Following the Led Bib event I made my way south to Waterloo Creative Studio, the venue also sometimes known as Iklectik.

The Jazzmann has always been highly supportive of emerging British jazz talent and I have always enjoyed covering these Jazz Newblood showcases curated by promoter and photographer Patricia Pascal, founder of the Jazz Newblood organisation.

In truth today was my first visit to one of these events for a couple of years so I’m grateful to Pat for organising my tickets and for making my wife and I so welcome. This 6.00 pm event was the second showcase of the day following a 2.30 pm show that had featured tuba player Hanna Mbuya, saxophonist Dominic Haffner and violinist/vocalist/dancer Saskia Horton, once of the group Nihilism, a band that I covered at a similar event in 2017.

Jazz Newblood has described its mission as being “nurturing youth jazz talent”. , a function it undertakes supremely well. These showcase events offer young musicians an opportunity to demonstrate their talents to appreciative audiences in a comfortable and relaxed venue with good acoustics and lighting. It represents a chance to shine and many of the artists featured here have gone to bigger things.

This evening’s bill presented three female band leaders, saxophonist/vocalist Asha Parkinson, guitarist Tara Cunningham and bassist/vocalist Isobella Burnham.

Between acts an exhibition of photographs by Patricia Pascal and Steve of Funkyfeet Photography on the theme of ‘ Women in Jazz’  provided an interesting diversion during the changeovers.


The first artist to appear was the young saxophonist, vocalist and composer Asha Parkinson, a former semi-finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. She is currently studying at the Guildhall School of Music and has performed with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO).

As a composer she embraces the influences of jazz, classical and world music and has written for orchestras and choirs as well as jazz ensembles.

Parkinson is the founder of the Voices Beyond Divisions scheme, a project that she describes as;
“bringing young people from all faiths and none together to sing and make music to promote peace and mutual understanding”.

Today’s performance found her bringing several of her musical influences to the table as she led a quintet featuring Tim Lallement on piano, Joao Menezes on guitar, Harry Pearce on electric bass and Joe Parks on cajon and percussion.

Parkinson has spent time living and studying in Spain and her love of Spanish music and culture was reflected in the choice of her opening tune, “Zyryab”, written by the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia.  This impressive slice of flamenco jazz included solos from the leader on alto sax and the Portuguese born Menezes on acoustic guitar, plus a lively cajon feature from Parks, with all three greatly impressing with their contributions.

A passage of unaccompanied piano from Lallement introduced Parkinson’s original ballad “Sidelines”. This saw Menezes moving to electric guitar and the composer to curved soprano sax as the quintet embraced a more conventional jazz sound with the purity of Parkinson’s playing commanding the listener’s attention.

Another original, “Shams”, a word meaning “Sun” grew out of a collaboration with Syrian musicians that had taken place as part of the “Voices Beyond Divisions” scheme. Here Parkinson made use of Arabic scales and modes (or maqams) and effected a more incisive tone on soprano as she shared the solos with Menezes on acoustic guitar. The composer’s aim here was to produce music that was both “spicy and mellow”, and on this evidence I’d say that she’d succeeded brilliantly.

The original “Snowdrift” was inspired by the writings of Omar Khayam and was again notable for the purity and clarity of the composer’s sound on soprano as she shared the solos with Lallement.

“Gracias A La Vida” (literally “Thanks for Life”), written by the Chilean musician Violetta Parra, featured Parkinson singing the Spanish lyrics in highly convincing fashion as she duetted with Menezes on acoustic guitar during the intro. The performance was also notable for a sparkling piano solo from Lallement.

The closing “Alright Then” saw Parkinson doubling on vocals and alto sax on a song that offered an assertive and feisty challenge to vicissitudes of everyday life. The leader’s rapid fire delivery of the lyrics was impressive, as was her soloing on alto as she shared the instrumental spotlight with Menezes on electric guitar.

This short but impressive set saw Parkinson touching several of her musical bases and she impressed with the quality of both her playing and her singing. Her purity of tone on both alto and soprano was genuinely impressive and suggested a classically honed technique, and although it wasn’t heard today she’s also similarly accomplished on tenor. Parkinson was well supported by her young band, with the versatile Menezes arguably the other stand out instrumentalist.

My thanks to Asha for speaking with me afterwards and providing personnel and set list details. I predict a bright musical future for this talented young lady.


Originally from Bath guitarist and composerTara Cunningham attended the Junior Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music before going on to study Jazz Guitar at Trinity Laban. She plays in a variety of bands across a range of musical genres and also works as a guitar tutor.

Cunningham grew up listening to an eclectic mix of music ranging from opera to Talking Heads and Glenn Miller to Prince. She started out as a violinist before making the move to guitar after falling in love with the music of AC/DC.

Her set today reflected this wide range of influences. Cunningham has already developed a distinctive guitar style that draws on both jazz and avant rock and her original material was genuinely impressive. She was joined by a core trio of Hugo Piper on five string electric bass and Adam Merrell at the drums with Max Winter (keyboards) and Evan Abell (baritone sax) also making contributions.

The set began with the core trio’s remarkable interpretation of “Habanera” from Bizet’s opera “Carmen” as arranged by Cunningham. It was introduced by Merrell, with a brilliant exhibition of melodic drumming, sketching melodies on skins and cymbals via a combination of bare hands and mallets, even quoting a melodic fragment from Thelonious Monk at one juncture. This quiet display of melodic sensitivity isn’t what you normally expect from a drummer and this helped to set the tone for Cunningham’s own contribution, her quirky guitar styling the perfect adjunct to Merrell’s idiosyncratic drumming. An intriguing and enjoyable start.

Cunningham’s own John Scofield inspired “Spikey” embraced a more conventional jazz-rock sound and saw the leader making effective use of her wah wah pedal as she shared the solos with the burly Abell on baritone sax.

Another original, the marvellously titled “Ballad of the Jellyfish” saw the group reduced to a trio once more. Cunningham introduced the piece with an atmospheric passage of unaccompanied guitar and the piece was also notable for melodic and dexterous electric bass solo from Piper. This was a distinctive piece of writing, simultaneously quirky and atmospheric, and like so many of these pieces strangely beautiful.

Winter then joined the trio for the closing “Home”, another atmospheric piece that featured more liquid electric bass from Piper and saw Merrell subtly deploying a range of percussive devices including bells, shakers and rainstick, Winter’s keyboards provided additional colour and texture while Cunningham’s guitar solo was notable for the gentleness and delicacy of its timbres. It was all a long way removed from AC/DC, but a subtle rock influence informs Cunningham’s music nevertheless. Besides being impressed with the playing and writing of the leader I was also impressed by the distinctive, and highly musical, contribution made by drummer Merrell.

Once again thanks to Tara for speaking with me and providing set list and personnel details – and later for befriending me on Facebook. She’s another young musician to keep an eye out for and will hopefully be able to document her music on disc at some point in the future. In the meantime check her out at the regular Overnight Oats jazz jam sessions that she runs at the Folklore venue in Hoxton.


The last artist to appear was Barbados born bassist, vocalist and songwriter Isobella Burnham, colloquially known as Izzy.  A product of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme she was leading a sextet featuring such Jazz NewBlood favourites as Benjamin Appiah (drums) and Lorenz Okello Osengor (keyboards) in addition to Richie Aikman (guitar) Joseph Oti (trumpet) and Nathaniel Cross (trombone).

Burnham was already played with a number of leading figures on the UK music scene, again within a variety of genres. As a bassist and vocalist it’s tempting to view her as a British Esperanza Spalding, which represents something of a compliment.

Burnham dedicated today’s show to the memory of her late father and it was obviously a very emotional occasion for her. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for all of it I was booked into another gig uptown at nine and had to factor in some travelling time. Nevertheless I saw enough to be impressed by her soulful vocals and deep bass grooves on the opening “Dusk Till Dawn” and her scat vocals on the following “Dancing Garuda”.

Her instrumental colleagues also impressed with Oti on muted trumpet, Cross on trombone and Okello Osengor on keys all featuring as soloists on the first couple of numbers.

As I reluctantly made my leave Burnham’s electric bass groove was underpinning the Caribbean flavourings of a tune paying homage to her home island of Barbados.

I always enjoy my visits to this venue and these showcase events in particular. My apologies to Patricia for having to dash off early, as has happened before I’m afraid, but thanks for your hospitality and I hope to see you again next year. In the meantime keep up the good work!


From a trio of emerging stars to one of the giants of the genre, The American bassist and composer Eddie Gomez was born in Puerto Rico and is perhaps best known for his tenure with the late, great pianist and composer Bill Evans’ trio.

Gomez has played with many of the greats but is also a bandleader and composer. Tonight found him leading an Italian quintet featuring the saxophonists Renato D;Aiello (tenor) and Marco Pignataro (tenor, soprano) plus pianist Tio Ciavarella and drummer Alfonso Vitale.

This late night (9.00 pm) show was the second of the night and the quintet’s thirty first,  and last, of a ten day European tour.

The quintet kicked off with the bassist’s tune “Cheeks”, his dedication to the late trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, just one of the many jazz legends that Gomez has performed with. This was a piece in the classic hard bop style that included an introductory solo from pianist Ciavarella followed by the trading of tenor solos from the twin saxophonists. Finally we heard a series of lively double bass exchanges between Gomez and Vitale.

Any fears that tonight’s set might become a ‘hard bop by numbers’ show exclusively in the head/solos/head format were dispelled by the imaginative choices of often unfamiliar material. The next piece Gomez called was “Why Cry”, a beautiful ballad written by the late Matt Marvuglio, a jazz flautist and the former Dean of Berklee College of Music. Gomez’s delightfully melodic bass soloing helped to set the tone here and he was followed by fluent statements from Pignataro on soprano, D’Aiello on tenor and Ciavarella at the piano.

The Bologna based Ciavarella also proved to be a composer of distinction as his piece “Arianna”, written for his then young daughter demonstrated. Another ballad the piece appears on the album “Per Sempre”, recorded by Gomez with this group in 2012 but sadly not available tonight. The composer introduced the piece the piece with a passage of solo piano and he was subsequently joined by Pignataro on soprano sax and Gomez on bowed double bass, these two doubling up on the melody. A typically melodic and dexterous pizzicato solo followed to the accompaniment of sparse piano choring and brushed drums. The saxophonists then took over with Pignataro distinguishing himself with his mellifluous sound on soprano and D’Aiello with a skilfully constructed tenor feature. Finally the composer played us out with a lyrical piano solo, enhanced by the leader’s melodic bass accompaniment. A brilliant and beautiful group performance.

A dip into the standards repertoire came with a Gomez arrangement of Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight”. “I’ve tweaked it a bit” explained Gomez drily, “same lady, different lipstick”. A solo bass introduction presaged the sound of the two tenors harmonising together prior to solos from both saxophonists, their statements punctuated by a solo from Ciavarella at the piano.

The pianist was also the composer of a piece named for one of the islands off the coast of Sicily. Introduced by Vitale at the drums the piece had a suitably Mediterranean feel with Pignataro on soprano and D’Aiello on tenor doubling up on the melody prior to a particularly animated piano solo from the composer. Pignataro followed on soprano, soaring above the leader’s propulsive bass groove and D’Aiello’s probing tenor harmonies. Finally the piece came full circle with a closing drum feature.

A segue of Gomez tunes followed, firstly “Forever” from the “Per Sempre” recording and then “Amethyst”, a piece that I remembered from the wonderful 1997 album “If Summer Had Its Ghosts”, made under the leadership of drummer Bill Bruford in the company of Gomez and Ralph Towner. This sequence proved to be show case for the ballad playing of the two saxophonists who both contributed warm, breathy tenor solos with Pignataro also contributing a solo sax cadenza at the close. Along the way we also heard from the consistently impressive Ciavarella while Gomez delivered some of his most joyously melodic and dexterous bass playing, quietly singing along with his solo.

They closed with Ciavarella’s “Grande Teodoro”, which introduced a modal, more contemporary sound. Vitale introduced the piece at the drums while Ciavarella and D’Aiello held a good natured contest to see who could squeeze the most quotes into their solo. Pignataro followed on soprano and Vitale enjoyed a further feature at the close.

A highly appreciative audience, squeezed in cheek by jowl at the Pizza, gave the quintet a great reception and they encored with a gently swinging version of the standard “I Fall In Love Too Easily” ushered in by Gomez himself at the bass. The interplay between D’Aiello on tenor and Pignataro on soprano was a delight as the two horns dovetailed, before eventually taking individual solos. Ciavarella and Gomez also featured as soloists as an excellent evening of music making came to a close.

Based as it was around the “Per Sempre” album this was a performance that was fresh and vibrant and largely free of cliché. The playing was excellent all round with pianist Ciavarella also impressing as a significant composing presence. I’d like to hear him leading his own projects.

I’d heard Gomez on record of course but all the Italian musicians represented exciting new discoveries, even D’Aiello who has been based in London for many years but had somehow managed to slip under my radar, possibly because I’d pigeon-holed him as being more ‘trad’ than this.

All in all this was a terrific way to round off a Festival that had seen some brilliant performances from musicians from all over the globe. Let’s hope that politics doesn’t get in the way and that we can all enjoy similar experiences again next year.

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