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Archive for the ‘Marco Benevento’ Category

[ATTENDED: February 10, 2017] Marco Benevento

Almost exactly five years ago to the day I saw Marco Benevento headline a show at the Ardmore Music Hall.  That show blew me away, it was so much fun.  The whole band: Marco on keyboards, Karina Rykman on bass and Andy Borger on drums were terrific.  And the three of them laid down a fantastic groove all night.

The trio was almost the same tonight. This time Dave Butler was on drums, but it was still Marco and Karina.  I looked up Karina and found that she is 23, which means she was 18 last time!  She was fantastic then and even better tonight.

There was supposed to be an opening act: Deer Scout.  But for whatever reason, they didn’t come and it was announced a few days ago that Marco would play two sets.

I arrived a little later than I wanted to, but he didn’t go on exactly at 8, so that was fine.  I was also amused because for the first time in a while, I was one of the youngest people there.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead had played three nights in Philly a few weeks ago and it was clear that people who were at that show were here as well (Marco plays with JRAD, although his music is not similar at all).  There was a lot of tie-dye and a lot of long gray beards.  I decided not to get mixed up with that crowd so I hung back a bit. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 9, 2021] The Menzingers

I saw The Menzingers open for Weezer back in 2016 and really enjoyed them.  I’d been wanting to see them again mostly because I was really far from the band when I saw them and couldn’t really get into it the way I might have liked.

So when they were listed as headlining two nights of Philly Music Fest I knew I had to see them.  Especially in a small place like Ardmore Music Hall.

I have only been to Ardmore a couple of times.  My favorite show there was Marco Benevento where the sound was outstanding.  Even right up against the stage.  Well, for this show I was right up against the stage (although as more and more people crowded into the place, I moved away from the band’s more devoted (and a little crazy) fans.  But apparently I never got far back enough because literally all I could hear the whole show was Tom May’s guitar.  And May tends to play lead licks and solos, so I never really got the backing chords of Greg Barnett unless May wasn’t playing anything (which happened from time to time).

Obviously it was more fun being able to see bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino (who I couldn’t see at all last time), but it was weird having the sound so disjointed.  Throughout the set I tries moving further and further away from the stage, but I was never able to get further to the middle. (more…)

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[DIDN’T ATTEND: October 7, 8, 9, 2021Joe Russo’s Almost Dead [rescheduled from September 24, 2020]

I don’t actually know Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.  The only thing I really know about them is that Marco Benevento is the pianist for the band.  Honestly that’s good enough for me.

They are playing three nights in Montclair and two of them sold out almost immediately.

It didn’t actually occur to me that the Dead in the band name is a Grateful Dead reference.  But I see that JRAD is like a Grateful Dead cover band plus more.  They are known for their intermingling of the Grateful Dead’s recognizable folk-rock and Americana sound with more contemporary Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion influences.

So I had a lot going on that week and decided I didn’t need to see a Grateful Dead band.  Especially since I don’t especially like the Dead (althouh it’s more their recording sound (too tinny) than their songs.  But according to GratefulWeb, the run was a hit. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARCO BENEVENTO-Me Not Me (2009).

This album (Benevento’s second) with the confusing title is actually a (mostly) covers album.  Marco takes some familiar (to me) and some unfamiliar (to me) songs and turns them into instrumental versions using piano (and more), bass (from Reed Mathis) and drums.

The first song is My Morning Jacket’s “Golden.”  The melody is instantly recognizable and bouncy and fun.  Matt Chamberlain provides drums, which are skittery and complicated but never loud. Until the end when the songs starts to float away with trippy synths and some wild drumming.

“Now They’re Writing Music” is an original piece that switches between synth and piano and features Chamberlain and Andrew Barr on drums.

“Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” is a Leonard Cohen song.  It’s produced as if it’s on an old scratchy record with echoing bass and drums over the scratchy piano.  Barr is on drums.

“Mephisto” is an original, a slow jazzy number with a hummable melody and Chamberlain on drums.

“Twin Killers” is a Deerhoof song.  Appropriately, it has some riotous drums (from Barr who is on the next two songs as well).  It’s longer than the original because it features a cacophonies middle section that is just insane.  But Benevento’s faithful reproduction of the melody line makes this really catchy.

“Call Home” is a pretty lullaby.  It’s an original with soft keys and a baby cooing.

“Heartbeats” is the Jose Gonzales/The Knife song.  The main low riff sounds like its on the bass and then Marco plays the familiar lead melody with all kinds of fuzz thrown over the song.

“Sing It Again” is a mellow song from Beck off of Mutations.  I don’t really know it that well but this version is very pretty and simple.

A highlight of the album is this really fun version of Led Zeppelin’s “Friends.”  It’s immediately recognizable and yet different somehow.  Its full of raucous paying from all three especially when Benevento ads the sinister synths near the end.  Chamberlain plays up a storm on the drums.

The final song is George Harrison’s “Run of the Mill.”  I don’t know the original, but this is a jazzy song with lot of piano runs from Marco and some restrained drumming from Chamberlain.

This is a pretty solid introduction to Benevento’s music, although his albums definitely get better once he starts writing his own songs with words.

[READ: March 14, 2021] “Surrounded by Sleep”

Ajay was ten years old.  His family lived in Queens (having moved from India two years earlier).  He and his older brother, Amam, were in Virginia visiting his aunt and uncle.  One morning Aman was swimming in the pool.  He dove in and hit his head on the cement bottom.  He was on the bottom of the pool for several minutes before anyone noticed.

His parents were not terribly religious, but as Amar lay in a coma in the hospital, his mother began to pray regularly.  She also prostrated herself and fasted.

At first Ajay thought “her attempts to sway God were not so different from Ajay’s performing somersaults to amuse his aunt.”  Then Ajay knelt before the altar and drew in the carpet an Om, a crucifix, a Star of David and the Superman logo.

When his mother saw him praying, she asked what he prayed for.  He told her for a 100 on his math test. His mother said “What if God said you can have he math grade but then Aman will have to be sick a little while longer? …   When I was sick as a girl, your Uncle walked seven times around the temple and asked God to let him fail his exams just as long as I got better.”

Ajay replied, quite rightly, “If I failed the math test and told you that story you’d slap me and ask what one has to do with the other.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARCO BENEVENTO-Between the Needles and Nightfall (2010).

This is the third album by Marco Benevento and his trio: Reed Mathis on bass and Andrew Barr on drums.

It’s hard to put this release into any genre because of how fluid Benevento is.  He has some poppy songs, some jazzy bits and some experimentation.

Most of the songs are pretty long (over 6 minutes) and none of the songs have words (well, one has a aspoken section).

“Greenpoint” flows around a very simple bass line as Marco plays a poppy piano throughout the song.  There’s also some synthy blasts that move the song beyond a simple piano motif.  Around the four minute mark, the song shifts gears, growing a little faster and little more intense as the drums crash through.

“Between the Needles” is a slower song with a pretty bass line and slow piano chords.  After a minute and a half it takes off a bit with bigger piano chords and a more dramatic tone.  But then it all slows down to just piano before building up again, this time with even more evocative lead bass.  “Two of You” is quieter, with a waverly keyboard line that lays under the lead piano  The main piano line acts like a lead vocal line and is really pretty and quite catchy as well.  It builds into a nice bouncy song by the end.

“Numbers” is a slow song with a lead bouncing bass and simple keyboard intro chords.  The song builds in layers until it is a loud, almost-crashing sound with some jazzy piano soloing on top.  “It came from You” is a super catchy piano melody with some complicated electronic drumming. It turns into a bouncy and fun romp by the end.

“Ila Frost” is one of the catchiest things on the album–a lively piano melody both in the repeated background and the main lead line.  It’s followed by the even catchier “RISD.”  In addition to the fun pulsing bass, the main echoing keyboard melody is simple but instantly catchy.

“You Know I’m No Good” is the shortest song on the disc.  It’s a slinky torch song that is actually written by Amy Winehouse. Knowing that, you can hear it in the delivery.  There’s a sort of crashing drum section in the middle.  This song also has the only vocals–worldless “da da daing” toward the end.

“Music Is still secret” is a lovely, slow jazzy ballad. While “Wolf Trap” is the opposite.  There’s some loud clangy drums and a big fuzzed up bass that matches perfectly with the really noisy piano melody.  Once the song starts going, there is some ferocious soloing from Marco as the rest of the band jams behind him.

The disc ends with “Snow Lake” an electronic kind of processed sounding track that mixes some interesting synths and some low ringing bass.  It ends with a wild cacophony of sounds–electric and otherwise–and then abruptly ends.

There’s not a lot of earworms on this disc.  But everything sounds great.  The musicianship is top notch and the songs are all pretty fun.

[READ: September 14, 2010] “Lucky Girls”

In this story, the narrator is an American woman living in India.

As the story opens she says she always imagined what it would be like meeting Arun’s mother for the first time.  She pictured a fancy restaurant with herself looking stunning.

But in reality, Mrs Chawla showed up at the apartment one day, unannounced.  The narrator had been living there for five years and had yet to meet the mother of the man who owned the place.

The narrator was in her painting clothes when Mrs Chawla showed up.  The narrator considered changing, but decided against it.  Mrs Chalwa was shorter than expected; she looked at the narrator as if she too were not what was expected. (more…)

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[POSTPONED: September 24, 2020] Joe Russo’s Almost Dead [moved to October 7, 8, 9, 2021]

indexI don’t actually know Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.  The only thing I really know about them is that Marco Benevento is the pianist for the band.  Honestly that’s good enough for me.

They are playing three nights in Montclair and two of them sold out almost immediately.

It didn’t actually occur to me that the Dead in the band name is a Grateful Dead reference.  But I see that JRAD is like a Grateful Dead cover band plus more.  They are known for their intermingling of the Grateful Dead’s recognizable folk-rock and Americana sound with more contemporary Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion influences.

Formed by drummer Joe Russo, the band also includes Ween’s bassist Dave Dreiwitz, keyboardist Marco Benevento, Scott Metzger on guitar and Tom Hamilton on guitar and vocals.

This Dead-connection makes me want to see them less, although this description from Wikipedia is pretty exciting:

Keyboardist Marco Benevento is known for having at least one extended solo during each show where the band will stop playing entirely. During these solos Marco has led his solo improvisation to tease many different songs such as Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” and Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place”. These extended solos, after exploring a different sonic space, often build in energy and lead to the band rapidly joining in, leading the improvisation to a peak and getting quiet again rapidly.

 

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SOUNDTRACK: BENEVENTO/RUSSO DUO-Play Pause Stop (2006).

This is the final release (so far) by the Benevento/Russo Duo.  There were two earlier ones that have not be reissued yet.  This follows in a similar style to the previous one, with great drumming and a wonderfully full sound from Benevento’s keys.

This album featured 9 songs and this reissue includes five live bonus tracks.  There’s a few shorter songs (under three minutes), but most are longer.  Like the title track, “Play Pause Stop” which is almost 8 minutes long.  It starts as a slow pretty melody with a lots of distortion on the keys.  There’s vocals on this track, but it still counts as an instrumental because the only words are whoa whoa–a happy inclusion for the chorus.

“Echo Park” is one of the shorter songs. It starts with simple piano melody and distorted washes of sound.  It turns into a super catchy, bouncy song.  Similarly, “Soba” starts slow and moody and turns into a rocking rager.

“Best Reason To Buy The Sun” features a lot of wild drumming.  It’s bookeneded by a pretty keyboard.  “Powder” opens with a pretty, staccato guitar melody.  The credits online don’t say who is playing the guitar.  The melody is looped as backwards solos are added.  It’s one of the trippier songs on the record until “Hate Frame” later on.

“Something For Rockets” opens like a Flaming Lips song with soaring chords.  It shifts to a singsong melody on the keys and then returns to the soaring melody.   The best title on the record is clearly “Walking, Running, Viking.”  It’s only 3 minutes long–a simple melody with a catchy solo near the end.

“Hate Frame: is 8 minutes long. It’s centered around a pulsing that sounds like an alarm followed by a rumbling bass.  By the middle of the song the music has turns utterly trippy, shooting off in all directions until it comes crashing back down with some fast frenetic drums.  The disc ends with “Memphis,” a slow loping song that sounds like it would work for a Western.

The bonus tracks are live versions of “Echo Park,” “Soba,” Walking, Running, Viking,” and “Something for Rockets” which all sound like jamming versions of the original.  The biggest change comes in the live version of “Play Pause Stop.”  It runs to nearly eleven minutes and stars with several minutes of noise and nonsense.  It’s surprising how long the noise goes on–they must have been having a blast.

[READ: August 31. 2020] Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come

I bought this book for my son on a whim.  It was his birthday and the title made me laugh.  Now, he’s not much of a reader these days and it’s pretty unlikely that he would read a book like this, anyhow.  I knew when I bought it that if he didn’t read it I would certainly give it a go.

I thought that this book was going to be a funny look at an introvert going out and having a hilariously awkward time at various events.  I assumed it was comic essays.  Boy was I wrong.  This is, as the subtitle says, a book about Jessica Pan’s decision to start doing things.  This may not sound that compelling and when I first realized what the book was, I was a little disappointed–I wanted funny essays.  But then I read on about the things she actually said “yes” to and the book became inspiring (even if I’ll never do the things she did).

Pan starts out by saying that she doesn’t think anyone needs to be “cured” (introvert extrovert or otherwise).  But that she was unhappy and wanted to make a change.

Then she divides people in to two categories–those who would happily go to the Glastonbury festival and those who watch it on TV as if it was a horror show.  Obviously, as a painfully shy introvert she would not be going to Glastonbury.

Nearly one third of the population identify as introverts–people who gain their energy from being alone.  Meanwhile, extroverts get their energy from being around other people.   But there are two other parameters: shy and outgoing.  Some introverts can be confident in groups or when giving a presentation–they just can’t take the stimulation of large crwds for extended periods of time.  Then there are other like her who are shy as well–this is what she felt was making her miss out on things. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENEVENTO/RUSSO DUO-Best Reason To Buy The Sun (2005).

I’ve become a huge fan of Marco Benevento over the last few years.  When I saw that he was releasing these earlier records with Joe Russo (of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead) I was intrigued.

This set up is indeed a duo.  It’s just Russo on drums and Benevento on all manner of keyboard sounds.  (There are a couple of guests later in the record).  The sound is really full–Marco’s low end is fat and heavy and never wavers no matter what melodies he plays.

This album is all instrumental and there’s quite a lot of diversity in the sounds.  Most of the songs are relatively short (around the 4 minute mark), but a few do stretch out.

The disc opens with “Becky” which has a great funky bass and drums.  There’s some typically weird sounds from Russo’s drums to start (showing that he’s not only going to be keeping time) and a nice distortion filter on the keys.  “Welcome Red” starts with accordion!  It morphs into a slow grooving song with a pretty melody that’s accompanied by bells.  “Sunny’s Song” is brighter and bouncier with a pretty main riff on the keys and the bells.  Half way through the song gets bigger and it rocks harder with lots of cymbals.  Smokey Hormel adds some guitar to this song.

“Vortex” is slower and trippier with a kind of ice-skating rink vibe.  Eventually the song kind of takes off into an outer space sound.  “9×9” pushes past the six minute mark with a slow melody that’s accented by sprinklings of trippy sounds.  There’s some really dynamite drumming in this song.  By the end, it takes off, really rocking as it segues into “Scratchitti.”

On “Scratchitti,” Skerik plays some horns and Mike Dillion adds percussion (it’s impossible to know what he is playing that Russo isn’t).  This is the first weird song on the record.  It’s off kilter with noisy funk (Skerik is all over the place).  Although it does have a really catchy melody and a great bass sound from Marco.  There’s a middle section where things stretch out nicely turning kind of spacey–a trait for this album.

All three guests appear on “Three Question Marks.”  It’s a piano-based song and is jazzy in a kind of free jazz, everybody soloing kind of way.  Midway through the song Marco plays the strings of his piano, making a kind of harp sound before Russo (and Dillon?) get a drum solo.  With about a minute left, the song turns into a manic freakout with Skerik’s wailing sax and Hormel’s wailing guitar both fighting for dominance.

MIke Dillon appears on “Bronko’s Blues” which is slow and jazzy with a 1970s style keyboard solo.

The disc ends with “My Pet Goat” which is a slow jamming song that runs about 15 minutes.  Skerik, Dillon and Hormel all appear.  The first 8 minutes are slow chords over a fast syncopated drum pattern.  About half way through, there’s a pause and the second half of the song picks up with a new slow section based around some big bass notes.

I enjoyed this album a lot and thought it was really fun.  It’s a solid record of catchy, but not poppy insturmentals with a jazzy feel despite not being a jazz album.

There’s a bonus track–a 9 minute version of “The Three Question Marks.”  This is a big jamming monstrosity of a song. I don’t really recognize the original in it, but then I don’t think the original is all that recognizable.  This song has lots and lots of drums in it.

[READ: September 1, 2020] “The God of Dark Laughter”

This story is quite dark and it is written in a style that makes it feel much older than it actually is.

It listen as a report from a district attorney who is investigating a grisly crime.  The introduction to the report says

I make the following report in no confidence that it, or I will be believed, and beg the reader to consider this, at least in part, my letter of resignation.

Two boys found a dead body.  They were not innocent children–they had been killing squirrels and were covered in blood–but even they were disturbed by what they found.  The body was dressed like a clown and was surgically mutilated.

Only two weeks earlier the Entwhistle-Ealing Bros. circus had left town, so the D.A. called the circus owner to see if they knew of a missing performer.  The owner would check, but he wanted the D.A. to know that clowns have unsuspected depth–who knew what hey might get up to..

Sometime later they found the clown’s effects.  He had been living in a cave near by.  The cave smelled terrible.  Among his effects, they found clown makeup and clothes as well as some intellectual books including one in German by Friedrich von Junzt.

The D.A. went to the library to research this von Junzt fellow.  There was nothing in the card catalog for Von Junzt–not surprising for a small town–and no reference materials mentioned him. But there was a word in von Junzt’s book that stood out.  When he saw it again in another book, he had to put them together.

With the help of a dictionary the D.A. started clumsily translating the book which was written around 1895.  He learned that in Northern Armenia there were two competing cults.  The first supported Ye-Heh, the god of Dark Laughter.  They viewed the world as a cosmic hoax–the world was terrible but you had to laugh about it.  The descendants of this cult grew paler and some believe that the idea of white face for clowns comes from this cult.  The other cult worshiped Ai the God of Unbearable and Ubiquitous Sorrow.  They also believed the world was terrible bit that you should cry about it.  They set about killing all of the Ye-Heh believers.

As a man of the law, he had always followed the principles of Occam’s Razor, but this made him question everything.

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[POSTPONED: May 16, 2020] Karina Rykman / Heaven Man

indexI know Karina Rykman as the bassist for the Marco Benevento band.  She is without doubt the happiest musician I have ever seen.  She is also so much fun to watch and just exudes how much she loves what she does.  Her bass playing is fantastic as well–such a great sound.

I really don’t know much about her solo music.  She has two songs out and they are kind of electronic (and neither one is all that exciting).  There’s no jamming bass work or anything.  But who knows what she’d do live.

If it was a choice between her and The Lemon Twigs (playing the same night), at first it would have been her, but I think The Lemon Twigs would have won out.

Heaven Man is a Philadelphia based trio who plays a kind of psychedelic garage rock. I’ve listened to a few songs and rather like them musically (I’m not sold on their singer though).

I have to wonder if this was her choice for opening act, if she was going to play similar music.

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SOUNDTRACK: FREDDIE GIBBS AND MADLIB-Tiny Desk Concert #921 (December 6, 2019).

I was watching this video and I thought–that piano player looks like Marco Benevento.  And holy cow it is!

And he is amazing–playing his jazziest, prettiest melodies.  In fact, the whole band is fantastic.  They’re a band that I didn’t know Benevento was part of called El Michels Affair.  Okay, maybe he’s not.  It turns out that El Michels Affiar is a band founded by Leon Michels (who plays saxophone here).  And check this out

After performing with Raekwon at a concert, the group began working with other members of the Wu-Tang Clan and covered several of their songs … [which]…  yielded an album released in 2009 as Enter the 37th Chamber, a play on the album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).  El Michels Affair followed this with a second album of arrangements of songs by Wu-Tang Clan and from its members’ solo releases, titled Return to the 37th Chamber.

And evidently producer Madlib really wanted to work with El Michels Affair

This Freddie Gibbs and Madlib Tiny Desk performance was a year in the making, largely because Madlib insisted on playing with El Michels Affair, a vintage funk and soul band based out of New York. But it was worth the wait. When pianist Marco Benevento opened with a delicate, almost jazzy run, it created the perfect opening — and juxtaposition — for hard-hitting emcee, Gibbs to jump in and ride the hell out of that beat.

Gibbs brags about Madlib the legend while Marco plays and Madlib makes all ind of weird sounds with the thunder stick.  Marco opens with a pretty rill, the funky bass from Nick Movshon kicks in and the horns (Leon Michels and Dave Guy in trumpet) play a wonderful melody. Its jazzy and improvish.

From the moment they launched into “Education,” a cut off the latest MadGibbs project Bandana, it was obvious Gibbs has spent countless hours honing his style. Meanwhile, Madlib, an enigmatic and reclusive producer known for his analog head-nodders, brought along a small thunder tube and vintage electric bongos circa 1960. Just getting a chance to see him ignited excitement in the NPR crowd.

I love the way drummer Homer Steinweiss shifts gears in what seems like mid song to a faster beat for “Gat Damn.”  Marco is on a soft synth sound while Madlib plays electronic bongos.  Of course, there’s some funky bass too.  Gibbs does some impressive quick jazzy rapping through the middle part.

“Soul Right” sounds great with some soft keys and horns. It’s slow and smooth and has a really catchy chorus.

Throughout the set, Gibbs’ uses the N-word about a million times and this song has a fantastic refrain of

‘Cause I been struggling my whole life, yeah
So I broke it down and it was all white, yeah

I had to wonder if it was awkward that everyone in the band is white.  Although Freddie says that there’s a white nigga up there-Leon.  The band is all his fam.  Leon… My boy!

But the conclusive jam in this killer set was “Freestyle S***,” a track that drips with the smoothness of satin and swagger of the seventies. It and the rest of the set elevated the room for both longtime purists and new fans alike.

“Freestyle Shit” opens with a great horn riff and Gibbs does some great fast rapping in the middle.  It is a fantastic musical jam.

But the way Gibbs emphatically showed his love for Madlib was just as beautiful to witness. There’s little doubt about their deep admiration and appreciation for each other. It was hands down, for me, the best Tiny Desk of the year.

This has turned into one of my favorite Tiny Desks.  Let’s hope this gets Marco Benevento his own show!

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Koftaesque”

This is an excerpt from Szabłowski’s book How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hokha, Fidel Castro and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of their Cooks.

This sounds absolutely fascinating and this excerpt was certainly enough tom make me want to read more.

I’m also fascinated that this book was written in Polish (translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) and was most likely translated to him from whatever the chef’s language was.

The example in the except is from Saddam Hussein’s chef Abu Ali.  He says that Hussein invited a bunch of friends on his boat and Ali, his personal chef, was to cook for them.  They were not at war with anyone and everyone was in a good mood. (more…)

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