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jazz music reviews (new releases)

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ Uncharted Waters

Album · 2017 · Hard Bop
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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kev rowland
When I saw that this album had been released, I knew I had to hear it for myself: I mean, just how many jazz albums have you come across where the band leader plays bassoon? Michael has been making a name for himself since graduating with a BFA in music performance from SUNY at Purchase in the late seventies. He is highly regarded as an improviser within the scene, and has played with and collaborated in many different settings. He first came across Nat Harris (guitar) and Ruslan Khain (bass) in 1995 at the Kavehaz jazz club in New York City, and the trio developed a sound together while playing across the New York metro area. Ten years later he played with Vince Ector (drums) with the Charles Mingus Orchestra, and from there the band Bassoon In The Wild was born. This is their first album, although it is credited solely to Michael.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a bassoon as a lead instrument in any musical style, and on hearing this I wonder why on earth not? In many ways, it is similar to a baritone sax, but there is more depth and vitality, as well as a surprisingly high register. Michael is an undoubted master, making this large and ungainly instrument do exactly what he requires. He has an incredibly fluid approach, and the notes seem to sweep into each other, almost as if they are a living being. He is often at the forefront of the sound, but is also prepared to take a back seat and let the others take the lead when the moment is right. This is the type of relaxed jazz where each player is a master, and all know that there is no need to be flashy or play five thousand notes to the bar, but rather [play exactly the right note at exactly the right time to enhance the overall feel.

This album isn’t available until the beginning of July, but anyone who wants some classic jazz with some incredibly warm sounds and memorable playing, should have this noted in their diary.

CRAIG TABORN Daylight Ghosts

Album · 2017 · 21st Century Modern
Cover art 4.48 | 4 ratings
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js
Always working at the forefront of what is new and interesting in today’s jazz scene, Craig Taborn has produced one of the better albums of his career, and also one of the better new jazz albums this year with, “Daylight Ghosts”. Building on the style he established on 2013’s brilliant “Chant”, Craig continues to use repeating rhythmic figures to construct his compositions that some have compared to minimalism. Taborn’s ‘minimalism’ has very little to do with composers like John Adams or Phillip Glass, but instead reflects the timeless music of Africa and Indonesia, as well as composers who pull from that deep well such as Steve Reich. To these insistent rhythms Taborn adds a swinging flow borrowed from today’s post bop, as well as some rhythmic drive from the fusion side of things and the end result is a musical style that sounds like no one else but Craig Taborn.

One of the salient differences between “Ghosts’ and the preceding “Chant” is the addition of Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet, a musician who totally gets the Taborn musical vision and interacts with Craig as one mind. Much of the solo space on here finds the two musicians ‘soloing’ at the same time, almost in a method reminiscent of the earliest days of New Orleans jazz. Therein lies the roots of Taborn’s musical creation, Africa and New Orleans reconfigured for the modern age. Another new feature on “Ghosts” includes moments of reflective melody, such as “The Great Silence”, on which Chris Speed’s lonely clarinet sounds like isolated quotes from a Stravinsky recital.

Some of the best cuts on here include the opener, “The Shining One”, which features one of Craig’s best aggressive piano solos, and the hard charging “Ancient”, on which the band’s repeating rhythms take on a rock like push similar to a modern math rock combo. “New Glory” also reveals Craig’s renewed interest in melody with a high flying closing chorus that sounds like Weather Report from their Caribbean influenced mid-70s output . “Daylight Ghosts” is highly recommended for anyone who wants to hear what is new and happening in jazz.

MIRIODOR Signal 9

Album · 2017 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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kev rowland
So the Canadians are back with their ninth studio album, and a slight change in line-up as they move back to a quartet, but as all of the guys play multiple instruments anyway there isn’t a noticeable difference in that area. As with the excellent ‘Cobra Fakir’, the first word that springs to mind is “staccato”, as this is music that is rapidly moving around and for the most part doesn’t have time for long held-down chords but just wants to get on with it. Coming from a RIO/Avant background, they have been listening to some of the early Canterbury bands as well as to King Crimson and Art Zoyd to create something that is always interesting and complex, and just a little different to much that is available within the prog scene, let alone mainstream.

It is the type of album that will polarise opinions, as those who like it will enjoy it a great deal, while others will fall into the “what on earth are you listening to” camp, and won’t give this album the time it both needs and deserves to get the most out of it. This is complex, with lots of melodies and counter-melodies, with Bernard Falaise often crunching the guitar against myriad keyboard sounds, but that can all change in an instant. It is music that does demand respect and attention, and those prepared to do just that will get a great deal out of this, as it is incredibly rewarding.

JACK DEJOHNETTE In Movement

Album · 2016 · Post Bop
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Steve Wyzard
SCINTILLATINGLY TIMELESS!

I'm making the assumption that everyone reading this review will KNOW who I'm talking about when I refer to the fathers of Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison. As a longtime DeJohnette listener, I found it VERY compelling that he would elect to record an ECM album with the sons of two legends he had performed with oh-so-long ago. Allow me to say with all the enthusiasm I can muster that while risks have been taken, the results can only be described as an album for the ages.

How can such a claim be justified with mere words? Here's a rundown of each player's performance:

Matthew Garrison: I start with Matthew because he offers this album's biggest surprises. Unlike his father, he plays the electric bass and adds "electronics" to a majority of the eight tracks. For those hoping for a good old-fashioned blowing session, you've come to the wrong place. Yes, the players' pedigrees would lead one to assume this will be a nostalgic look backward, but it just plain is not. Garrison adds spikey yet swirling textures to the title track after opening with an electric solo, and a pulsing, thudding bassline to the spooky "Two Jimmys". He rumbles on "Serpentine Fire" and broods behind the wistfully fluttering "Lydia". The album would most likely have ended up radically different (read: far less modern) without his significant contributions.

Ravi Coltrane: For as long as he lives, Ravi will be a source of amazement for having the utter boldness to play the same instrument as his father. And naturally, for as long as he lives, the two will be compared and contrasted. On In Movement, he plays the tenor on only two tracks (a mournful take of his father's composition "Alabama" and "Two Jimmys"), and soprano on the rest. While the screaming, squeaking tones heard on the title track and "Serpentine Fire" will elicit a smile of recognition, Ravi's playing is unquestionably influenced by his father without being too derivative. Some will no doubt point to his performance on "Rashied" and insist he's trying just a little too hard to recapture his father's snarly, volcanic tone, but Ravi is truly his own man. In Movement is simply not a pale reflection of past glories.

Jack DeJohnette: For someone who has been playing professionally for over 50 years, this album's drumming is downright phenomenal! Listen especially to the scintillating, intricate cymbals on "Alabama" and "Two Jimmys", and the stomping bass drum and imposing snare on "Serpentine Fire". Forget about the idea of taking it easy before sailing off into the sunset: the man has lost none of his ability, and is "all over the place" without ever dominating the material. If you want to be reminded of his fiery playing from the mid-1970s (on albums such as Gateway and Timeless), listen to his intro on "Rashied". There will be grumbling about the two tracks he leads from the piano rather than the drums (a free take of "Blue in Green", and the lightly airy-yet-still-haunting "Soulful Ballad"), but these two offer a reflective change-of-pace, and a nice contrast to the rest of the album.

Because of the players involved, In Movement will certainly be listened to and discussed for some time to come. Let me just restate that this is an amazing album, and an immediate candidate for all "best of" lists. Fans of DeJohnette, Coltrane, and Garrison will be coming back to this one again and again, long after the inevitable media hoopla has died down. Packaging and recording are (as always for ECM) immaculate. And for the cynics who say this is the closest ECM will ever come to releasing a Coltrane album, can I just say, "Thank God!"

PHRONESIS The Behemoth

Album · 2017 · Progressive Big Band
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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snobb
During a decade of their activities, Nordic-British trio Phronesis built a strong reputation as leading UK-based jazz band of new generation. Led by charismatic Danish bassist Jasper Høiby, trio successfully combined renown Swedes EST-influenced contemporary chamber jazz with their own well-composed themes and energetic live performances. After some years of fame, trio members try to find out new destinations where their music could be developed. On "Parallax", their studio album released in 2016, Phronesis for the first time leave safe waters of comfortable and successful music of their early albums and switch to more muscular (and less tuneful/memorable) fusion sound - with mixed success. Seeing them playing live last autumn with program which contained both old (contemporary chamber jazz) and new (fusion) songs, was quite a controversial experience. Older compositions were all much more polished,tuneful and often just beautiful, new muscular songs radiated energy and groove but as rule were quite faceless and unmemorable.

Anyway, this spring Phronesis made another unexpected step - trio released album of their well-known songs recorded with German big band. This time it works without doubts - excellent Julian Arguelles arrangements with lots of horns soloing and perfect muscular big band sound help to show Phronesis compositions' potential in full. There are no tricks or gimmicks in orchestra's music at all - all album sounds as best Gil Evans or Charles Mingus big orchestra recordings. Music is full-bodied, well balanced, tasteful and played with lot of positive energy and enthusiasm.

Excellent generalization of Phronesis first decade of activities - with lot of optimism and looking ahead, not in a past. One of the best big orchestra release I heard for years.

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JEAN LOUIS Jean Louis

Album · 2008 · (Post-70s) Eclectic Fusion
Cover art 4.41 | 8 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
JEAN LOUIS is a rather unique freeform avant-garde jazz meets avant-prog type of power trio from Paris, France. So original is their sound that they managed to come in second in the La Defense National Jazz Competition in 2007. Their self-titled debut release came out the year following and displays all their interesting fusion styles with a healthy diverse palette of eclectic influences. The band is a mere trio with Aymeric Avice on trumpet, Joachim Forent on double bass and Fracesco Pastacaldi on drums but like any excellent power triumvirate of sound, have the ability to encapsulate a much larger band experience with a huge swath of styles and eclecticism that makes this eponymous debut quite an intriguing listen. While no guitarist on board, Forent manages to make his bass sound as fuzzed-out as a peach orchard often reminding me of bands like Zu or Aluk Todolo in the process.

The rhythms are quite the strange mix of avant-garde jazz with Avice’s angular trumpet playing style and avant-prog type of rhythmic or should i say anti-rhythmic spastic meanderings. So think a mixture of 60s Sun Ra with a Miles Davis flare mixed with Thinking Plague and a noisy math rock band like Lightning Bolt and you’ve got half the picture! This band doesn’t stay still too long and after an intense hardcore workout they delve into extremely psychedelic meltdowns. Just check out the mind bending freakiness on “Airbus.” In addition to the instruments listed i swear there are other sounds to be found on here. My guess is that they use different percussive objects as there are lots of clanking and banging sounds. There is also a distinct cello sound on “Tranche” which means there must have been some studio guests participating.

This album is a major wild ride that has taken me forever to find on physical format as the CD is out of print and quite expensive but can be heard on the band’s Bandcamp site. This is one that must be experienced to be believed. The dynamic shifts from the passively surreal to the full out aggressive assaults on the eardrums is staggering as each member deftly weaves his respective instrumental riffs in a perfect complimentary way. This album has it all. Intricate melodies, scary storms of cacophonous walls of din, distinct jazz parts, avant-prog run amok and progressive workouts of exquisite virtuosity. The members of JEAN LOUIS are clearly aiming for the most ambitious of the ambitious music nerds out there of which i am one of! This is one of those relentless type of albums that just slaps you in the face with one surprise after another therefore I LOVE IT!!!

MIRIODOR Cobra Fakir

Album · 2013 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 4.69 | 4 ratings
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kev rowland
Miriodor formed in 1980 in Québec City, and have been through some different band formats since then, but are currently a trio comprising founding musicians Pascal Globensky (keyboards, synths, piano) and Rémi Leclerc (drums, percussion, keyboards, turntable) along with longtime member Bernard Falaise (guitars, bass, keyboards, banjo, turntable). Miriodor have long been members of the international RIO movement, but what I find amazing is just how immediate this music is, although it is complex in the extreme and some would find it incredibly challenging. To my ears it is a staccato world where not only am I welcome, but it is somewhere that I want to stay as long as I can.

They have definitely given this album the right title, as a cobra fakir is a snake charmer, who uses carefully concocted melodies to put the mighty reptile into a trance from which there is no escape. That is the same here, as once this hits the player nothing else exists. Imagine Gentle Giant and King Crimson combined at their most eclectic and not allowed out of the studio until they have come up with something that is breathtakingly brilliant, and you may be close to what this is all about. There is no doubt in my ears that this is one of the most important albums ever to come from the wonderful Cuneiform stable and here is something for everyone into RIO, prog, avant music, jazz and/or they have an open mind as to where music can take them. In many ways hard to describe, and definitely hard to ignore, this is a compelling piece of work.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART Trout Mask Replica

Album · 1969 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art 3.54 | 9 ratings
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EntertheLemming
Well I assure you sir, this thing sucks (Don Van Vliet on selling a vacuum cleaner to Aldous Huxley)

Of the many albums that sit gathering dust, undisturbed in the rack yet are routinely adored by their house proud owners, it is perhaps Trout Mask Replica that best represents the disingenuous litmus test for hipster candidates of 'high' office everywhere. What's odd about its assimilation into the pantheon of 'maverick genius' constructions is that it's not even a rock album at all but rather, a free jazz inspired stream of consciousness 'f.u.c.k the lot of you' diatribe that has more in common with a Cecil Taylor arranged 'To Have Done with the Judgement of god' by Antonin Artaud than an unrequited love letter to any Howling Wolf. That's hardly a picnic with your childhood sweetheart and s.h.i.t.s.u puppy of course but it's still unnerving how far removed from the predictable lumpen plod of rawk (psychedelic, blues or otherwise) this album deviates at its furthest outreaches.

And therein maybe lies the key: Most rock fans including your reviewer get rather uncomfortable when their steady diet of cyclic rhythms and anticipated releases from harmonic tension are not resolved in a timely fashion. Listening to such music is tantamount to a delicately balanced guessing game. If I guess correctly what's coming next too often, I'll get bored and lose interest: If I cannot discern any anticipated patterns I'll dismiss the music as too chaotic or random as too few of my guesses are correct. That's probably why I heartily loathe Cecil Taylor, John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, et al as such aesthetic considerations are completely irrelevant to their art. This says more about my limitations as a listener and failing to understand the stimulus to hand but all the same, I want to like this malarkey but erm....am unable. We're also habitually guilty of confusing texture with content e.g. there might be a sax on Brown Sugar but that doesn't make it any closer to Jazz than Rock. The textures at play on Trout Mask Replica have lured many an unwary critic into believing that the electric slide guitars, amped bass and drums menu is consistent with a delta blues themed psychadelicatessen and are invariably frustrated when the Captain and his troops steadfastly decline to serve up such a dish. The only place where texture and content are in accord is perhaps on Hair Pie Bake 1 where Beefheart's solitary soprano sax is redolent of the sort of uncharted musical landscapes of Anthony Braxton. It also explains why so few echoes of Beefheart are present in the music of his avowed wannabees, disciples and acolytes from within the republican realm of rawk like the Residents, Devo, Pere Ubu, Tom Waits, the Fall, PIL etc. The cynical among us would hazard that this is just egregious name-dropping which also lassos Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and anyone else who was considered a bit 'out there' but has crucially just died into the R'OK Corral.

The best Captain Beefheart impersonation I have ever heard is probably from Edgar Broughton circa Sing Brother Sing in 1970 but here's the rub, the unwitting approximation by a completly sh*t faced English actor Oliver Reed on Michael Aspel's chat show from 1984 comes a pretty close second. You are cordially invited to check out the 'You Tube' footage at your leisure. Tread very carefully when using 'derangement of the senses is the gateway to wisdom' as an educational paradigm kiddies. (The playgrounds of the US are littered with casualties on a daily basis)

Don Van Vliet's lyrics are at best, inscrutable surrealistic glossolalia and at worst, when they even approach bad beat poetry, crassly and glibly asinine:

Dachau blues, Dachau blues those poor Jews Still cryin' 'bout the burnin' back in World War Two's One mad man six million lose Down in Dachau blues, down in Dachau blues

We know that the good Captain enrolled as an art major in his youth but dropped out after less than 12 months. Draw your own conclusions if you will but thwarted artists with distinctive facial hair have never done the world many favours.

It seems that like Mark E. Smith of the Fall, the Captain ran his erstwhile Magic band circa 1969 similar to a dark satanic mill owner where dissent was treated with ridicule, physical violence and privation in no particular order. The published testimonies of band members appear to attest to the rather unpalatable conclusion that their Don was an uber controlling c.u.n.t of Mansonesque proportions. Revisionist apologists for this alleged behaviour start to sound like those clueless soccer pundits defending a leg breaking tackle who posit that 'without his underlying psychopathic and sadistic nature his talent would have been thwarted by mediocrities' Try telling that to the lads when they've been neither paid or fed for their unaccredited efforts and have to play a man down after their captain's red card for hacking down his own team. (Apologies for milking the footie metaphors there a tad)

I've also never understood why Zappa's mix is so heavily weighted in favour of Beefheart's vocal as most of these conspire to practically drown out the music and only serve to make prolonged listening a considerable chore. That's a shame as all told, there is much innovation and prescience buried in the bowels of this frankly appalling production to warrant a deeper appreciation of the creative input of the assembled Magic band.

There is some speculative evidence to suggest that the Captain refused to record his vocals using traditional headphones and therefore his delivery is commensurately out of sync with a backing he could only hear via the latency of speaker bleed. Being out of time deliberately would at least require some effort methinks? Anointed if you do, anointed if you don't. (He can't lose)

Long story short: This album isn't really a 'best fit' for any particular genre oriented appreciation site. It is too far removed from the prevailing evaluation criteria and is one of the few purported 'rock' albums deserving of being placed firmly in the 'other' basket.

AMM Ammmusic

Album · 1967 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Stemming from the classical indeterminacy of artists like John Cage and the free jazz antics of rule breakers like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, during the 60s these influences along with other atonal sounds from the musique concrete movement culminated into the experimental noise and free improvisation sounds with the London based group AMM leading the way in divorcing themselves from any remaining melodies, rhythms or predictable musical patterns. The group started in 1965 when Keith Rowe (guitar), Lou Gare (saxophone) and Eddie Prévost (drums) found the commonality of creating free form noise from their instruments that was designed to be spontaneous embellished by unorthodox methods of adding extra touches of weirdness to the mix such as amplifying the abuse of everyday objects, using radio feedback as part of the overall flow of noise and Rowe’s deconstructed guitar techniques including untuned strings. After a heavy rotation of finding musicians who shared the same vision, the group grew to a quintet with Cornelius Cardew (piano, cell, transistor radio) and Lawrence Sheaff (cello, accordion, clarinet, transistor radio) joining the noise seeker ranks.

Because of their ambitions to sound utterly alien, their spontaneous music ensemble succeeded in scoring an opening spot with the then still free improv psychedelic band Pink Floyd at the famous UFO Club and in the fertile experimental fields of the 60s managed to ultimately score them a record deal with Elektra Records which was one of the big wig labels of the day as they were responsible for such hugely successful acts like The Doors. Unfortunately after AMMMUSIC sold virtually zilch amount of records, the band was immediately dropped leaving them to finding their own twisted way in the world, thus keeping them tethered to the deep recesses of the underground world as a cult curiosity for those who relish in the most out-there collections of sounds to be heard. Despite it all the undeterred group continues to the present day continuing their refusal to rehearse their compositions and still only perform spontaneously without previous notice.

The original LP released in 1967 contains two sprawling tracks that both clock in over the 20 minute mark and are utterly unintelligible as they consist of nothing more than constant flows of free improv sounds eschewing every aspect of “normal” music. Nothing even close to melodies, no steady rhythms and absolutely no recognizable structures whatsoever. It makes me think of the interior of the sun with random forces and explosions of sonic decibalage haphazardly punctuating the silence in aimless and arbitrary modus operandi that appear to have some hidden agenda as they swirl and swoosh about but is too removed from reality to understand it. The results of this nasty noise that celebrates chaos, atonality and the ultimate bizarre is like stepping into another reality altogether, suspending all expectations and placing the listener in a mediative state of disbelief with only the recognizable timbres of the instruments tethering consciousness to the world in which we are familiar.

More than a worthy addition to the Nurse With Wound list, AMM has persevered by carving out their own unique niche in the world of noise and improv and hides in the shadows of the popular musical world that dominates at any given moment. While original pressings are always preferred to experience first, some of the newer pressings on CD have extra tracks from the same sessions that add different takes of the two tracks as well as four completely unreleased tracks which are excellent complimentary companions to the originally intended tracks. If you’re looking for weird then look no further than AMMMUSIC. This is the type of sound collage that takes you somewhere you never knew existed and has enough going on so that it’s impossible to get bored.

OTIS REDDING Otis Redding / The Jimi Hendrix Experience ‎: Historic Performances Recorded At The Monterey International Pop Festival

Live album · 1970 · Jazz Related RnB
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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js
This review is based on the order in which the various bands appear in the film/documentary about the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival. The band order was actually a bit different at the actual concert.

The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 was one of the most significant cultural events of the 20th century. For the first time, the new style of loud rock n roll that had been hatched in London and on the west coast of the US was unleashed on the whole world via international media coverage of this groundbreaking event. Although the slew of west coast bands that opened the event seemed daunted by the challenge and floundered amongst out-of-tune guitars, amateur drug-addled performances and deer-in-headlights intimidation, three non-west coast bands followed and delivered a much needed 1-2-3 knockout punch to send this concert into musical history. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and Otis Redding changed rock forever with incendiary performances that fueled nothing short of a revolution. This record presents two of those performances as best as possible, but cannot convey the feeling of shock and disbelief felt by the people who witnessed these three bands. The first side of this album presents a fairly typical Hendrix outing for that time; a Dylan song, a blues classic, a fusion flavored Hendrix original and a psychotic version of Wild Thing. Despite some innovative Hendrixian chord voicings, "Like a Rollin Stone" is a bit repetitious, but the other songs have that incredible urgent punk/jazz feeling that only Mitchell and Hendrix can pull off. Particularly striking is "Wild Thing" with it's crazy 'Strangers in the Night' guitar solo and sheets of bizarre noise. As the song approaches it's end, shouts from the stage blend with crowd noise and guitar feedback to produce a nightmarish soundscape that would make the most avant-garde composer proud. All through this side Jimi treats us to mumbled hippie lingo mumbo-jumbo in between songs that is both funny and embarrassing.

Although the Hendrix side is good, the Otis side is even better. Having played mostly in the south, the huge crowd of hippies in California was a new thing for the countryish Redding. His response was to tell his band to play everything at double tempo. The end result lifted Redding's southern funky RnB to punk/gospel hyper workouts that generated enough energy to even outshine all other performers. Otis seems to go into a trance as the band keeps pushing the tempo and he repeats words like a man possessed. This is early rock at it's very best, and his band delivers with a professionalism that was severely lacking from all the west coast bands.

Early fast and heavy rock and RnB at it's very finest delivered by two yanks who grew up playing music in the southern US where an ability to sweat and deliver is placed above style and current trend. Music this kinetic and energetic barely exists anymore.

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