Lullaby #4 is the fourth movement of a five-movement suite written between 2016 and 2017 for jazz orchestra, entitled The Lullaby Project. Each movement draws its inspiration from melodic fragments originating in traditional Brazilian lullabies. The objective is to create a musical commentary on the dark underlying qualities of these folk songs, and, through musical deconstruction, arrive at a brand new composition. Throughout the history, many composers have utilized traditional folk song from their native countries as the starting point of a new work. Bela Bartók and Heitor Villa-Lobos are often cited as some of the most well known composers to have borrowed from their country’s national repertoire.
In order to realize this project, I used my large ensemble, The Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble. Although the instrumentation might point to a more traditional approach to big band writing, this project is more connected to a classical orchestral approach where motivic development is utilized to expand the traditional limitations of form, while ensuring that improvisation and groove-oriented sections would also be a vital part of creating this new approach to large ensemble Brazilian jazz. Each movement was through composed and featured different members of the ensemble as soloists. Color and texture have a large role in the overall esthetic of this work, which also utilized harmonic devices ranging from Baroque to 20th century classical music, as well as jazz and Brazilian folk elements.
In this article, we are going to explore some of the elements that were used in this specific movement. Lullaby #4 utilizes modal harmonies, pan-diatonic voicing textures, polychords, polyrhythmic structures, metric-modulations, jazz, pop, and Latin rhythmic influences, as well as odd meter treatments of traditional rhythms, cross-sectional and layered orchestrations, while featuring two improvised solos by members of the ensemble. The original lullaby melody from Brazilian folk repertoire is the unifying element that brings the development of the piece and its form together, from the first introduction of a fragment, to the climax, where it is finally played in its entirety. I chose to analyze the different elements of the piece as they happen in real time in order to match the video performance, and illustrate the aforementioned sense of evolutionary inevitability.
The accompanying video shows a performance of Lullaby #4 at The Jazz Gallery, NYC, on November 8, 2018, as part of a post-recording concert celebrating the release of The Lullaby Project CD recording (September 2018, on Tapestry Records). The Jazz Gallery is a staple of the New York jazz scene. With a very small, narrow room, it hosts mostly chamber size groups, but it is known to also host large ensembles such as this one. The result is that such band has to play in an almost fully acoustic setting, with very little amplification, only meant for balancing the ensemble. The recording was done with two HD cameras and their stereo microphones only, and it reflects the balance of sound achieved in the room, not mixed posthumously.
Theme and Aural Imagery
The piece is based upon the Brazilian traditional lullaby “Sapo Cururu”, a slow moving melody in major tonality. The original lyrics talk about a frog living at the edge of a river. The original melody is seen below (Ex.1).
Ex.1 – original melodic from “Sapo Cururu”
The idea of water as an aural image was the framework for the polyrhythmic idea that is introduced by the piano at the start of the piece (Ex.2)
Ex.2 – polyrhythmic piano idea
The original melody, although implying a G major tonality, never reveals the leading tone, leaving room to the possibility of a harmonic reframing into a Mixolydian mode. The regional character of the original melody also implies a Northeastern Brazilian character, welcoming the utilization of modes such as mixolydian. The sextuplets in the right hand of the piano are grouped in sets of four notes, while the left hand plays sixteenth notes, grouped in sets of three, in contrary motion. This polyrhythmic setting is meant to illustrate the flow of the river, while implying several possible interpretations to the perception of time feel. Debussy’s La Mer string writing was the inspiration for this idea.
Notice that in order for the polyrhythm to align, the phrase is naturally set to be a three-bar phrase, on top of which the vibraphone introduces a slow moving, quarter note-based melody that is harmonized in sevenths (Ex.3). The vibraphone phrase is meant to represent light hitting the water.
Ex.3 – new melody based on the first three notes of the original lullaby melody
The second entrance of the vibraphone phrase is then displaced, creating a sense of variable phrasing lengths, before the bass clarinet introduces the first fragment of the original lullaby melody (Ex.4) (video time: 0:54)
Ex.4 - fragment of the original lullaby melody
Pedal Point and Modal Harmony
At this point the upright bass has started a pedal in G (video time: 0:40), reinforcing the sense of a modal center. After the first statement of the original melodic fragment, the vibraphone and the woodwinds (two flutes and two Bb clarinets) introduce the first response to the bass clarinet melodic call, introducing a modal shift. The voicing consists of a series cluster structures (2nd, 3rd, 2nd) moving in conjunction with its leading voice, not in parallel motion, but diatonically, according to the mode, in a similar way to Igor Stravinsky’s use of pan-diatonic voicings (Ex. 5)
Ex.5 – woodwinds and vibraphone cluster voicings against piano polyrhythmic figure
The voicing in itself has not enough clarity to imply a mode (possibly Ab Lydian, possibly Eb Ionian), yet, because of the continuous bass pedal in G, the combination of notes imply a clear modal shift from G Mixolydian to G Phrygian. The harmonic approach used throughout the introduction has a clear Stravinsky’s Petrouschka influence: its harmony moves through several modes in G with very little change:
Mixolydian – Phrygian - Mixolydian – Phrygian - Mixolydian – Ionian - Phrygian - Ionian - Phrygian - Lydian – Dorian – Lydian – Lydian/Lydian Dominant (no 7 to define it) –Phrygian.
This modal shift is created by superimposing different chord structures over a G pedal (Ex.6)
Ex.6: Piano chord voicings over G Pedal
Orchestration and Textures
Many orchestration and textural elements are used throughout the climax-building process that leads to the final chord of the introduction section, before the beginning of the baritone saxophone solo. In order to create tension and a less traditional presentation of the chord, the structure of the voicings used favor the intervals of seconds and sevenths, as previously seen in the vibraphone and piano examples. Instead of approaching the chord as a traditional tertiary structure, the voicing is defined by the mode and the intervallic structure desired. Timbral combinations of woodwinds (2 flutes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet), muted trumpets (in Harmon mutes), and muted trombones (in bucket mutes) match the elusive quality of these voicings. (video time: 1:37)
Aside from the Claude Debussy influence, the use of repeated ostinato patterns that change over time can be related to the minimalist school compositional approach. Those patterns are introduced by the piano, and doubled by the vibraphone and guitar (video time: 1:55), who take over the pattern right after the drum set starts playing a back beat oriented groove (video time: 2:02). The piano (as seen in Ex.6) joins the drum set in stressing the second and fourth beats of each measure, solidifying the idea of the back beat oriented groove. The entrance of the drum set groove is a metric paradigm shift, which clarifies the underlying 4/4 meter, previously clouded by the polyrhythms, metric superimpositions and varying phrase lengths.
The role of the conductor (as seen in the video) is critical to the success of the flowing “water effect”. Historically speaking, many jazz big bands have had bandleaders as conductors, yet many of them also performed as soloists or accompanists at the same time. That was possible due to the original nature of the music (geared towards dancing). With bands such as Duke Ellington’s and Paul Whiteman (although not considered jazz by many), a shift towards jazz concert music occurred, which, in its complexity, starts to require a more active role on the conductor. The collaborations between Miles Davis and Gill Evans also helped set a new tone to the vital importance of the composer, arranger and conductor in making sure that the nuances of the esthetic are coming through in the final product. This opened the door for composers such as Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, Vince Mendoza, Maria Schneider, and Darcy James Argue, among others. The complexity of voicings, cross sectional writing and unusual phrase lengths challenges the ensemble in regards to tuning, balance, and general technical ability. In the case of this video we can see the role of the conductor in assuring that entrances are accurate, despite the odd length of phrasing, and that time stays solid despite the polyrhythmic aspect, which creates pulse elusiveness.
After the introduction of the drum set, bass and piano groove, the main melody (a fragment of the original lullaby melody), previously introduced by the bass clarinet (and later joined by the bass trombone in bucket mute), is now reintroduced by a stronger timbral combination of tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and tenor trombone in bucket mute. The response to the melody is re-orchestrated using four trumpets in cup mutes and three trombones with plungers. The melody sustains a C, while the response highlights the tension of the cluster voicing by cascading the pitches B, G, F#, E in the octave above it. When the chord is completed and sustained, the three trombones ad the pitches B, G, F# below the held note on the muted trombone melody, therefore increasing the overall tension effect. These trombone pitches are played simultaneously, while the timbre of plungers (going from close to open bell) enhances the textural intensity. As the melody continues to evolve, this response setting continues to occur, switching the pitch choices to match the introduction of the new chord voicings and modes.
The climax of the introduction starts at (video time: 2:49) and it is highlighted by several elements. The saxophone section (now playing only saxophones and no doubles) assumes a non-traditional role in layering three different parts. Lead soprano and tenor 1 join the vibraphone line in octaves, reinforcing the sextuplet polyrhythmic ostinato line. The alto 2 sustains a concert A pitch in the highest of its traditional register, creating a high pedal against the original low G pedal. The A pitch, the last note of the melody statement that leads to the introduction climax, is held over all the following chords/modes, creating various levels of diatonic consonance and dissonance, until finally reaches the final G pedal chord, where it functions as a chromatic dissonance against the chord/mode (Ex.7).
Ex.7: high pedal (A) relationship to chords [* Abmaj7(b5)/G = G Phrygian (A is not diatonic to G Phrygian)]
The tenor 2 and baritone saxophones join the piano and bass G pedal ostinato, in octaves (which is also reinforced by the unmuted bass trombone). The brass section (now unmuted) reinforces the backbeats by playing different inversions of the cluster chords determined by the piano chord voicings and the mode it implies. These inversions, as in the piano voicings, aim to highlight seconds and sevenths as a way to create tension within each mode. Tension is not only determined by the chord or mode quality, but also by the intervallic structure of the voicings and the rhythmic layering.
As the introduction climax reaches its peak in the last chord before the baritone saxophone solo starts, a D pedal substitutes the G pedal. The final chord is a hybrid combination of modal clusters and a symmetric diminished (octatonic scale) cluster, superimposed (Ex.8).
Ex.8 – Introduction climax polychord
The resulting hybrid chord voicing can be represented by a polychord symbol such as:
EbMaj7 (add 4)
Or by the following chord symbol:
Dº7 (b9, 9, 11, b13)
Both representations clearly point out to a highly chromatic chord structure that implies two modes sounding consecutively or at least one symmetric diminished scale with two intervallic denial pitches inserted.
First Soloist – Orchestration and Harmonic Context
After the climactic polychord, the tension is released into a baritone saxophone solo, which starts accompanied only by the piano, bass and drum set, continuing the previously established backbeat groove. The solo harmonic progression is taken from a set of chords previously played during the building of the introduction climax:
GMaj7sus4 - AbMaj7(b5) - GMaj7sus4 - EbMaj7sus4 - Em9 - FMaj7sus4 - Em9 - DMaj7sus4
The difference is that now there is no G pedal point, so the chords function as autonomous modes, defined by their individual roots. The harmonic progression is fundamentally modal in nature (the sound of the mode, and not a function, defines the chord choice), yet some of the chords resolve to the next chord in ways that can be considered functional. Such are the cases of AbMaj7(b5) resolving to G, and FMaj7sus4 resolving to E, both functioning as a secondary bIIMaj7, a subdominant minor chromatic substitute, similar to a classical Neapolitan 6 chord.
The baritone saxophonist (Tyler Burchfield) improvises over two installments of the chord progression. The solo is intended to start lighter and build throughout. On the second repeat, the drum set, piano and bass are joined by a select group of woodwinds and brass playing backgrounds that build from one to four harmony parts. The instrumental combination of two flutes, two clarinets, and four flugelhorns create a smooth sounding timbre backdrop to the baritone solo development towards becoming more aggressive. Although the harmonic rhythm is consistently a two-measure phrasing, the melodic line of sustained notes and moving triplets creates some phrasing unpredictability. The two flutes in octaves and one flugelhorn introduce the first voice. The second voice (one clarinet and one flugelhorn) joins four measures later, increasing tension by reintroducing an interval of a minor second between the two voices, which happen to be the fourth and major third degrees of the GMaj7(sus4) chord. As the lead background melody continues to ascend, a second clarinet and another flugelhorn introduce the third voice two measures later, now over the EbMaj7(sus4) chord, maintaining the presence of one second between the two lower voices of the voicing. The three-voice setting continues until the very last chord of the progression is introduced by the last flugelhorn, creating the highest tension cluster voicing, with three seconds (Ex.9).
Ex.9 – backgrounds behind baritone saxophone solo
First Interlude and Metric Modulation
The previously established triplets in the background melody set up the transition into an interlude featuring the woodwinds (video time: 5:02). The triplet-based melody carries on with the high level of tension and density in the chord structures, containing always the interval of a second in the lower two voices, and the interval of an octave in the upper two. The triplets are originally played over the metric of 4/4, beginning a process of metric modulation after four measures. By regrouping the triplets into consecutive groups of four and three, the composer shifts the perception of time into a new pulse in seven. The previous triplet eight-note now becomes the new quarter note of a much faster tempo in 7/4 meter. In other terms, the old 4/4 meter becomes a new triple-time 7/4 meter (Ex.10).
Ex.10 – woodwind interlude and metric modulation
The fifth measure of rehearsal letter D sounds exactly like measures two, three and four of rehearsal letter E combined. Notice that the piano and the bass re-establish the original G pedal in octaves underneath the woodwinds, and then begin to move their bass line in an ascending pattern as the triplets reframe the time into groups of seven. This pattern sets up the future behavior of the bass line operating in contrary motion against the descending melodic line. It is also important to notice the change in voicing texture here from seconds to fourths, while the lead remains being shared by the two flutes in octaves. The ascending bass line against the established woodwind descending melody reinforces the groupings of four and three inside the seven, while restores the G minor tonality as the key center. Three trumpets in Harmon mutes double the woodwinds (flute 2 and clarinets), while the bass trombone and one tenor trombone doubles the piano and bass ascending line. The drum set is fully engaged once the 7/4 time is established, and once the four measure phrase is completed, the vibraphone comes back playing an arpeggiated ostinato of ascending and descending fourths, which, by being grouped in four eight-note groupings, crosses over the 7/4 bar line, resolving to a downbeat every two measures (video time: 5:30). The climatic built of the interlude becomes drastically higher by the introduction of the full brass section, mostly in cup mutes (with the exception of one flugelhorn holding a pedal G) repeating the descending line in fourths voicings (video time: 5:38). At this point the piano and guitar join the vibraphone ostinato, creating not only a more intense orchestration, but also a harmonization of the line in fourths. As the brass chord is released, at the end of a crescendo to forte, the piano/vibraphone/guitar ostinati is left alone with the G pedal point, played by the flugelhorn, bass trombone, piano and bass, which slowly decrescendo for four measures, until it ends on a G chord sustained by vibraphone, piano guitar and bass. It is important to point out that after the descending horn melody and the ascending bass line end, the ostinati and pedal are only using the pitches G, C, D, and F, leaving no definition of either a G major or minor tonality in the listener’s ears. The final G chord is also ambiguous, with no third included: only the root and fifth are played.
Second Soloist – Orchestration and Harmonic Context
The flugelhorn player (Eric Smith) left playing the pedal G now begins an improvised solo cadenza over the third-less G chord. Once again, the conductor is vital here in listening and communicating with the soloist, as they have to agree on when to bring back the rhythm section to continue the improvised solo. Notice that the is a slight miscommunication between the soloist and the conductor (video time: 6:08) where the soloist appears to interpret the conducting as being the last three beats of the 7/4 measure, while the conductor is beating an entire measure. The pianist, while tuned to the flugelhorn soloist, also interprets the downbeat four beats before its time, but both players quickly adapt and correct their phrasing, deferring to the conductor pattern, and therefore avoiding a clash between two metric interpretations of the beat phrasing. The solo is rhythmically framed in 7/4, in a loose, jazz version of a Latin groove based on a Afro-Cuban cascara pattern, now re-restructured to fit the odd meter (Ex.11)
Ex.11 – original cascara pattern and reframed 7/4 version
The flugelhorn improvised solo feature is organized around a set chord progression, which is repeated four times with layering backgrounds. The chord progression is based upon a harmonization of the full melodic statement derived from the original lullaby melody. This happens later in the piece as a full orchestral tutti. There are several harmonic features in the solo section, including a combination of chords over the previously used G pedal, and chords with no pedal:
GMaj9 – EbMaj7/G – GMaj9 – Bb7/G – E7 – C9(#11) – D9(#11) – GMaj7(#5)
The EbMaj7/G implies G minor or G Phrygian, with no A pitch present in the voicings to define the choice, while Bb7/G implies G Phrygian (Ab pitch is present) while not defining which what choice of sixth (E or Eb). It is then up to the soloist to choose, through improvisation, which mode to express. The voicings played by the vibraphone and woodwinds during background figures define the following modes choices in the following chords:
GMaj9 – G Ionian (C is present)
E7 – E Mixolydian (A is present)
C9(#11) – C Lydian Dominant (the chord symbol defines the seventh, yet no Bb is present in the voicings)
D9(#11) – D Lydian Dominant (voicings contain all mode pitches, as well as a passing note G)
GMaj7(#5) – G Lydian Augmented (voicing does not contain C#, yet the guitar ostinato does)
Another way in which the future melodic statement influences the solo setting is by predetermining it’s phrasing. The original lullaby melody is augmented in length, creating three measure phrases, instead of the original two. The unusual three-measure phrasing contributes to the feeling of openness, also somewhat intensified by the choice of the 7/4 meter, and the way the piano, bass and drum set play the groove accompaniment. The drum set player is instructed to start accompanying in a more open manner and slowly move towards a heavier, groove oriented accompaniment. The intensity of the solo is set to grow, not only from the actions of the improviser and rhythm section, but also from the layering effect created by the background figures. The harmonic progression repeats four times, the first time with no background figures, and the second time with the guitar bringing back the previously played ostinato in four groupings of fourths, which resolves every two measures. This creates an over-the-bar line rhythmic tension effect that only resolves every six measures (the progression has twelve measures). On the third occurrence, the woodwinds (2 flutes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet) layer background figures that harmonize the augmented melodic line in cluster (mostly seconds) voicings. The vibraphone joins doubling those same voicings on the last occurrence of the chord progression (Ex.12).
Ex.12 - excerpt from layered backgrounds – flute 1 and vibraphone play the lullaby melody (lead) harmonized in clusters
Second Interlude – Transition to Climax
The climax of the flugelhorn solo is followed by a drastic change in texture. The intensity of the multiple layers is replaced by one single voice, the vibraphone, arpeggiating a four-note figure (a second inversion G major triad). Instead of the previous two-measure pattern of resolution over the 7/4 meter, the pattern now adjusts to resolve in only one measure by playing only the two first notes of the last arpeggio (Ex.13).
Ex.13 - new vibraphone ostinato-like line
The new vibraphone ostinato-like line also introduces a new element, a measure 6/4, which will define the previously reframed cascara beat pattern phrasing going forward as: 7/4, 6/4, 7/4. This can be felt immediately after the bass trombone introduces a melodic bass line that contains a pattern, which contracts and expands rhythmically between the 6/4 and 7/4 measures (Ex.14)
Ex.14 - bass trombone melodic bass line with rhythmic contraction and expansion
The interlude intensifies with the layering of guitar and piano joining the vibraphone line, while the open tenor trombones introduce a harmonized rhythmic figure that responds to the bass trombone bass figure. The three open trumpets and the flugelhorn follow it by introducing a harmonized version of the first melodic statement, in rhythmic counterpoint to the bass trombone line. As trumpets hold a chord, trombones, respond with the previously played figure. A soprano led saxophone section joins the next installment of the trumpet melody, while tenor 2 and baritone saxophones join the trombones in their response. The rhythmic layering and the pan-diatonic character of the voicings movement are influenced by and reminiscing of Stravinsky’s Petrouschka Russian Dance chord structures. (Ex.15)
Ex.15 – Piano reduction excerpt from Petrouschka
Climax and the Unveiling of the Full Melodic Statement
The interlude of orchestral and harmonic crescendo leads to the final climax of the piece, the orchestral tutti, where a fully open (unmuted) brass section and five saxophones reveal the only full and final statement of the original Brazilian lullaby melody. The previous melodic augmentation from two to three measure phrases is continued here, as well as the use of the pattern of contraction and expansion through the 7/4, 6/4, 7/4 beat cycles (Ex.16).
Ex.16 – excerpt of the orchestral tutti at climax
Ex.17 – reduction of the chord structures in the horn section from example 16
Ex.17 shows a reduction of the chord structures in the horn section. The trumpets and high saxophones play upper structure of the chord, with the lead trumpet and soprano doubling the lead. The flugelhorn (trumpet 4) doubles the lead an octave lower, while trumpets 2 and 3 play the interval of a second consistently, and the alto and tenor 1 complete the cluster chord by also playing an interval of a second consistently. Notice that the intervallic structure of the chord is consistent, yet the nature of the seconds is not parallel, but diatonic in nature, relating again to Stravinsky’s pan-diatonic concept. The trombones, low saxophones and guitar (which sounds an octave lower) move in contrary to the trumpets, high saxophones, piano right hand and vibraphone (playing the melody in octaves), while the bass, left hand of the piano, and bass trombone play an independent bass line during the times the long chords are sustained.
The vibraphone, piano and guitar are no longer playing ostinati here, and the vibraphone also joins the trombones’ rhythmic response figures, while the horns and piano sustain the long chords. In this example, it is clear that the harmonic framing of the melody switches from G Ionian (major), to G Aeolian (minor). Yet, the second degree of the scale (A) is not sustained in the voicing, implying the possible use of G Phrygian instead. Notice the use of Ab pitches in some of the guitar voicings against the A pitches in the trombone and lower saxophone voicings, sometimes concomitantly, creating both tension and modal duality.
After the entire melody is presented as an orchestral tutti, a two-measure transition is added to create a bridge back to the descending 7/4 phrase, which is the same idea introduced after the metric modulation, now re-exposed as the main element of the Coda. Coming from the GMaj7#5 chord, the new two measures extend the 6/4 + 7/4 bass idea, now outlining a D7sus4b13 chord. The combination of the different guitar, piano, trombone, trumpet and saxophone chord voicings equates to a D Mixolydian b2 b6 mode, which is also known by the names of Phrygian Major3, or in some classical harmony texts Spanish Gypsy, Jewish, or Freygish scale. The transition resolves back to the pedal in G, played in octaves by the vibraphone, guitar, piano and bass, before returning to the ascending bass line. The descending quarter note melody is then re-introduced by the soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, along with the three upper trumpets, while the baritone sax, bass trombone and trombones 2 and 3 play a harmonized version of the ascending bass line (1, 8va, and 4th above it) under a held D pedal played by the lead trombone. (Ex.16)
Ex.18 – transition to Coda
As the horns finish their statement, only the two lower trombones are left playing the bass line in octaves with the piano and bass, accompanied by the drum set and the vibraphone, which brings back ostinato line in fourths. Four measures later, the vibraphone is joined in the ostinato by the piano and the guitar, while the flugelhorn (4th trumpet) holds the pedal G, the baritone saxophone joins the bass line, and the rest of the saxophones play the descending quarter-note line for the last time. The dynamics here are slowly getting softer on the descending line, while the ostinato is on a slow crescendo, followed by a decrescendo, while the G pedal, also in decrescendo, is held by the flugelhorn, bass trombone, piano left hand, and bass. The decrescendo lasts four measures until it resolves on the last chord, the ambiguous G no3 chord, where the only instruments left, guitar, vibraphone, piano and bass, leave the chord ringing until it naturally dies.
It is clear that the main driving force in this piece is the original lullaby melody. The melody defines the form and structure of the piece, as well as influences (yet does not define) the harmonic choices, mostly modal in nature. Recurring musical elements also create unity and cohesiveness. The orchestration and textures are the representation of the composer’s aural imagery, which can be derived from different traditions, in the case of this piece, largely from jazz and classical references. The different rhythmic approaches, from polyrhythms, to a pop-influenced backbeat groove, from metric modulations, to a Latin-influenced odd meter, are in themselves not determined by the melody, but chosen to purposefully reframe it outside of its tradition. While the harmonic and melodic elements can be translated to notation with reasonable clarity, the groove and rhythmic feels are much more complicated to do so. It is up to the composer and conductor to explain and point out to the musicians, both in the score, orally and kinetically, the necessary musical and cultural references, in order to achieve the performance results. Swung versus straight time feel, and different approaches to time and phrasing according to genres, demand not only rehearsal time, but a choice of performers who are knowledgeable and share a common tradition. It is important to point out that this music, as particular and personal as it is, was written with specific musicians in mind, and its success depends on a mutual understanding of references and experiences. This is true to many successful large ensembles in the history of jazz and Latin music, including, among others, The Duke Ellington, Gill Evans, Maria Schneider Orchestras, and The Hermeto Pascoal Group.
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