Carmel DeSoto
JMA Jazz Reviewer ·
Registered more than 2 years ago · Last visit 26 days ago

Favorite Jazz Artists

All Reviews/Ratings

40 reviews/ratings
SCOTT REEVES - Portraits & Places Progressive Big Band | review permalink
GENE ESS - Absurdist Theater Fusion | review permalink
COREY KENDRICK - Rootless Post Bop | review permalink
TROY ROBERTS - Tales & Tones Post Bop | review permalink
DANIEL DICKINSON - A Gathering Foretold Post Bop | review permalink
MARIA GRAND - TetraWind 21st Century Modern | review permalink
DIVA - 25th Anniversary Project Big Band | review permalink
TONY LUSTIG - Taking Flight Hard Bop | review permalink
LARRY CORBAN - Corban Nation Hard Bop | review permalink
GREG HATZA - The Greg Hatza ORGANization : Diggin up My Roots Soul Jazz | review permalink
CAROL MORGAN - Post Cool Vol. 1: The Night Shift Post Bop | review permalink
BILLY CHILDS - Rebirth Post Bop | review permalink
LEIGH PILZER - Strunkin’ Hard Bop | review permalink
TAL COHEN - Tal Cohen & Danielle Wertz : Intertwined Vocal Jazz | review permalink
ALEX WEITZ - Luma Post Bop | review permalink
ANTONELLA CHIONNA - Antonella Chionna Meets Pat Battiston : Rylesonable 21st Century Modern | review permalink
JEFF RICHMAN - XYZ Fusion | review permalink
MAC GOLLEHON - Mac Gollehon & The Hispanic Mechanics Latin Rock/Soul | review permalink
REBECCA KILGORE - Moonshadow Dance Vocal Jazz | review permalink
CHRIS ZIEMBA - Manhattan Lullaby Post Bop | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Jazz Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Post Bop 12 4.38
2 Fusion 5 4.30
3 Hard Bop 5 4.30
4 Post-Fusion Contemporary 4 3.88
5 Vocal Jazz 4 4.13
6 Soul Jazz 2 4.25
7 21st Century Modern 2 4.75
8 Big Band 1 5.00
9 Cool Jazz 1 4.00
10 Progressive Big Band 1 5.00
11 RnB 1 4.00
12 Latin Jazz 1 4.00
13 Latin Rock/Soul 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

JON MENGES Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4

Album · 2023 · Post Bop
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When exploring Jon Menges' latest jazz journey, "Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4," one can't help but feel they're leafing through a jazz aficionado's secret diary – a medley of reflections penned in smoky rooms where the trio is king and the quartet, queen. Menges plays the dual role of historian and futurist in this auditory exploration. Each of the twelve tracks whispers the lore of jazz's golden age while boldly professing a modern creed. The duality of three and four becomes more than mere numbers; they represent jazz's sacred geometry.

The trio pieces, stripped down, lay bare the bones of jazz—rhythm, and melody without the percussion's heartbeat. It's a high-wire act without a net, and Menges and his companions walk it with the ease of seasoned acrobats. The quartet numbers, on the other hand, are full-bodied libations, each instrument pouring into the next to create a cocktail of harmonious inebriation.

Before delving into the sinuous melodies and intricate rhythms that define "Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4," let's spotlight the whizzes behind the magic. Menges, the architect of this aural odyssey, leads with a trumpet's assertive whisper and a flugelhorn's mellifluous rumination. Pete McCann's guitar work is a display of six-string sorcery, while Evan Gregor on bass is the trio's anchor, bestowing each track with a deep, resonant foundation.

In the quartet configuration, Nathan Childers' saxophone is a cascade of woodwind wonder, providing a perfect foil to Menges' brass brilliance. Joe Fitzgerald, donning the bassist's hat in the quartet, and Robert Weiss on drums punctuates the quartet's offerings with rhythmic precision. Each artist, a master in their right, coalesces to form ensembles that breathe as one organism—the first six tracks as a trio's intimate gathering, the other half as a quartet's complex conversation.

Let's take "Anchor in the Path" – it's a labyrinthine dance between the trio of musicians, where Menges leads with a trumpet's clarion call. McCann's guitar solo is excellent, his ideas are fluid, and his vocabulary is based on the jazz tradition of bop and modern jazz. Gregor's bass is rich in its sound, and his support is rock solid for both McCann and Menges. Menges' solo is melodic, and he is a master at developing motivic ideas across the harmonic structures. One can envision the spirited discussions of a late-night jazz haunt, as notes replace words, and the conversation deepens with every solo.

In "Tree of Hope," we encounter jazz's sacred geometry manifest in auditory form—a symbiotic relationship between rhythm and melody that feels both ancient and innovative. Evan Gregor initiates the piece with double stops that serve as the roots from which this tree of melody grows. The folk-inspired thematic development traverses the spectrum of jazz's rhythmic landscape, with a form characterized by a medium straight-eight A section contrasted by a B section that swings. It's in this song that we feel the push and pull of temporal currents, as time signatures shift with the ease of a seasoned navigator changing course—here in ¾, now in 4/4—each beat and bar tracing invisible shapes in the listener's imagination.

McCann and Gregor are the musical geometers here, drawing lines and angles with their instruments to map out the tune's structural elegance. Menges, with his horn, plays over these shapes in a solo spiraling like golden ratios within the tune's architecture. His approach to motivic development is both mathematic and magical—calculating intervals and note choices with a geometer's precision, yet delivering them with the passion of a poet. This balance of technical skill and emotive power is what builds the energy of "Tree of Hope" into a living, breathing organism. The track embodies the sacred geometry of jazz—where the sum is indeed more significant than its parts, creating a tapestry of sound that is as viscerally satisfying as it is intellectually compelling.

"Coqui" is Menges and his quartet, taking us through an auditory landscape that is as enchanting as the song of its namesake. This track's foundation is a riff-based melody, relaxed yet precise, demonstrating the power of restraint and groove in jazz. The two-horn frontline, with Menges and Childers, presents this melody with style and rhythmic acumen.

Fitzgerald and Weiss lay down a swing that is anything but rushed. Their command of the minor blues changes is like watching a master painter move his brush with deliberate strokes—each one contributing to the greater whole without any need for haste. This rhythmic feel is the backdrop to creating the essential character in the narrative of "Coqui."

As Childers' tenor saxophone comes into the spotlight, his melodic solo speaks with the tenor's rich, warm tones, telling a story that requires no words—only feeling. When Menges joins, his trumpet's guide tones weave through the music, adding layers of complexity that feel as natural as leaves on a vine. His approach to his solo is distinctly personal; each note articulated with clarity, each glissando an echo of a coqui's own slide from note to note, each phrase delivered with a signature unmistakably Menges.

The mood remains consistently relaxed, a laid-back joy that swings without strain, swings without stress. Fitzgerald's bass solo continues this narrative, his melodic sensibilities speaking volumes in the spaces between notes, where the true essence of swing often resides.

In "Coqui," we're reminded that in the hands of jazz musicians of this caliber, there's no need for the frenetic or the overly complex to achieve emotional impact. Instead, there is a profound beauty in the swinging, relaxed cadence of a night well spent in the company of great music and musicians. It is a piece that takes time to get to the end, but enjoys every beat of the journey there.

Each composition, a polygon of sounds, mirrors a facet of jazz's vast panorama, with Menges as the architect employing the compass of his writing to draw arcs of improvisation and angles of melody. In "Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4," we are offered a space to revel in the elegance of jazz geometry, where every note and nuance forms part of an infinite pattern boundlessly expressive and meticulously ordered.

As the final notes of "Spirit of 3, Spirit of 4" resonate, the listener is left contemplating the sacred geometry that underpins this masterful jazz narrative. Jon Menges, with his adept ensemble, constructs a musical mosaic where the shapes and patterns of jazz's rich history are reimagined within contemporary lines and contours. The album, with its meticulous balance between trio and quartet, delineates a geometric progression—from the individual point of a solo note to the complex plane of harmonic interplay.

WOLFGANG MUTHSPIEL Wolfgang Muthspiel, Scott Colley & Brian Blade : Dance of the Elders

Album · 2023 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Class is in session, but forget the lecture hall; today's syllabus takes us straight into the musical sandbox of Wolfgang Muthspiel's “Dance of the Elders.” Now, if you haven't jammed to Muthspiel before, here's the 411: this Austrian guitarist is a jazz maven, and he's got the creds to prove it. Teaming up with Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums, this is more than a trio—it's a microcosm of musical evolution.

Context, my friends, context! Think of this album as a sonic seminar where each track is a guest lecture from a different department. We've got cameos from the world of classical music, nods to folk traditions, and a heavy dose of jazz improvisation. It's like attending a conference where Bach and Joni Mitchell share the stage with Brad Mehldau—and they're all jamming together.

Track-by-track, or should I say, lecture-by-lecture, we will explore “Dance of the Elders.” Starting with "Invocation." Picture walking into a cathedral of sound; this track lays the foundation for the album with its meditative, quasi-spiritual vibes. Muthspiel himself calls the "endless loop" a "vast landscape." Think of it as musical mindfulness.

"Prelude to Bach" is your Music History 101 recap, but with a twist. The trio takes a Bach classic and improvises around it, reminding us that the Baroque era was the OG jam session. Next on the syllabus is "Dance of the Elders." This is where ethnomusicology meets polyrhythms. The track incorporates global influences, offering a musical melting pot or, if you will, a 'World Music 101' in under 10 minutes.

Here's where the curriculum gets more interdisciplinary. "Liebeslied," folks, isn't just a waltz that's made its way into the jazz canon. Oh no, this tune has roots that reach deep into the socio-political tapestry of Weimar Germany. We're talking Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, the Lennon and McCartney of political theater, if you will. Now, when Muthspiel's trio takes on this gem, what we're witnessing is not just a musical performance but a nuanced cultural commentary—jazz as the literature of the oppressed, so to speak.

Alright, art majors, let's pivot to "Folksong." This tune is a masterclass in 'less is more.' Muthspiel's guitar sets the canvas with broad harmonic strokes, while Colley's bass adds fine, textured lines. Blade's drumming? Think Jackson Pollock meets Monet—rhythmic splatters bound by subtle finesse. They navigate a folk melody over evolving chords, layering sonic hues like a painting that demands a double-take. Simple yet deep—just like the best art.

How about we let "Cantus Bradus" speak for itself in the language of virtuosity? Influenced by the work of Brad Mehldau, this track showcases harmonic genius and rhythmic acumen. Muthspiel's guitar weaves intricate textures, intricacies met in full by Colley's bass and Blade's drumming. This trio's conversation here isn't casual banter; it's a series of eloquent monologues, responding to and building upon each other. For those of you looking to dissect layers, this is your analytic playground. It's practically a master's thesis in rhythm and harmony, all within the span of a few minutes.

"Amelia," the denouement. It's like the trio took a seminar on Joni Mitchell and aced the final exam. It pays homage while adding fresh academic footnotes.

You see, my scholarly compatriots, “Dance of the Elders,” isn't just a jazz album; it's a multidisciplinary research project. The trio pushes the boundaries, not only of what jazz can be but also of what music, in a holistic sense, has the potential to communicate. So, as we journey from the ethereal to the earthly, from the complex to the accessible, we're reminded that, in the end, it's all part of the more excellent academic discourse—a musical one, in this case.

So if you're looking for a musical text that requires, nay, demands multiple readings—or listenings, in this case—"Dance of the Elders” is your seminar's required listening.

PETE MCCANN Without Question

Album · 2023 · Fusion
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Alright, jazz seekers, gather 'round your proverbial digital campfire! Let's embark on a sonic journey through the modern jazz soundscape of Pete McCann's latest offering, “Without Question.”

First, a peek into Pete McCann's world: This Wisconsin native has been laying down grooves in the NYC jazz scene for three solid decades. Sure, he hails from cheese territory, but Pete’s been dishing out gourmet musical slices for years. This album, his seventh as the lead artist, is a testament to his legacy as a jazz luminary.

Now, diving into “Without Question,” it's McCann's bold assertion of his musical identity. This album is a mosaic of emotions, tipping its hat to jazz legends, painting an auditory image of a silent NYC during the pandemic, and showing his innovative compositional style. Think of it as an auditory indie film, painting images through sonic waves.

Before we dive deep into some of the tracks, let’s pause and consider the maestros behind this masterpiece. McCann, with his electric and acoustic guitar skills, is the centerpiece. Steve Wilson's alto and soprano sax melodies dance alongside, while Henry Hey, handling both the piano and the mixing board, ensures each note strikes a chord. Bass duties fall on Matt Pavolka, delivering both acoustic and electric textures, and drummer Mark Ferber crafts intricate rhythmic patterns that drive the collective forward. All these elements came together at Big Orange Sheep Studios in Brooklyn in March 2022, with the finishing touch masterfully provided by Sangwook ‘Sunny’ Nam.

The title track, "Without Question," explodes straight from the get-go, McCann employing intricate polyrhythms and modal explorations. The track oscillates between a shimmering head arrangement and solos exemplifying post-bop improvisational structures. McCann’s lines exude familiarity and innovation as they groove through the changes with elegance and rhythm drive. Also, notice his subtle use of bends for added expression.

"I Can Remember" is McCann’s tribute to guitarist John Abercrombie. Wilson’s gentle performance of the melody is supported by McCann’s harmonic structures, laden with rich harmonic suspensions and chordal inversions. McCann’s solo demonstrates his precise phrasing, employing chromatic enclosures and voice-leading, which captures the essence of Abercrombie's ethereal touch. And shout out to Hey on the keys - his delicate navigation through the form exudes class. The cherry on top? Pavolka’s bass solo. Gentle yet profound, it's like the soft murmurs of a contemplative poet.

"Trifecta" shows that McCann’s compositional style is just as adventurous as his improvisations. This piece is rhythmically audacious. McCann superimposes a dotted 8th-note motif over a standard time feel, creating an intriguing hemiola effect. Harmonically, the shift between key centers of C, Ab, and E is seamless, with extended and altered chords creating a bridge between these tonalities.

"Lost City" is brought to life by McCann’s warm acoustic guitar, evoking the desolation of a silenced city; McCann utilizes the Lydian dominant scale to create an air of uncertainty and eeriness. The spacious arrangement, with its sporadic staccato punctuations, mirrors NYC's empty streets and echoing alleys during its unprecedented silence. Let’s chat about McCann’s solo. This ain't just playing; it’s storytelling. It’s built on the holy trinity of jazz: lyricism, rhythm, and undeniable technical chops. And the techniques – graceful picking, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides aren't just for show; they add texture, depth, and dimension.

"Lovely Thing" is a swinging contrafact on "What Is This Thing Called Love" that is a delightful nod to Lee Konitz's legacy. Employing intricate bebop lines, diminished runs, and quoting snippets of "Subconscious-Lee," McCann marries traditional bebop phrasing with a contemporary harmonic palette. The subtle use of tritone substitutions and quartal harmonies is a treat for the discerning ear. Ferber’s drumming is dynamically interactive, syncing seamlessly with Pavolka’s pulsating rhythm. Together, they're like an unstoppable freight train, powerfully driving a hefty load of swing.

Now, let’s speak to Wilson’s performance on “Lovely Thing.” His big round alto saxophone is the perfect sonic match to McCann’s guitar tones. His solo on this song is rich in sonority, rhythm, and sheer expressive depth. The real genius, though? The way he dialogues with the ensemble. It sets the stage, the context, if you will, for his subsequent melodic explorations. And for those with keen ears, you'll pick up on the clever nods to the original theme. By using melodic fragments as a springboard, Wilson crafts an improvisation that's both rooted in the song's core and is refreshingly inventive.

For aficionados seeking a rich tapestry of modern jazz rooted in its storied past, “Without Question” is a masterclass in musical exploration. Every track is a lesson in the limitless boundaries of jazz expression. Plug in, tune in, and let Pete McCann guide you through a contemporary jazz odyssey.


Album · 2023 · Post Bop
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Gather around, class! Take a seat, maybe even recline a little. Today, we're not just talking theory or history; we're exploring the here and now of jazz with Affinity Trio's debut album "Hindsight." Let me put on my reviewer's hat—or should I say, my reviewer's shades? Let's dig into this.

The Affinity Trio, comprised of Eric Jacobson on trumpet, Pamela York on piano, and Clay Schaub on bass, has embarked on a journey less traveled—dropping the drums for a stripped-down, intimate conversation between three instruments. It's like eavesdropping on Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and Paul Chambers at a New York jazz club, but with its own unique flavor.

Released under the auspices of Origin Records, this album is an intellectual romp and an emotional voyage. Imagine your favorite book that keeps you pondering for days—that's what these tracks do, only they speak in notes instead of words.

Alright, class, let's get into the nitty-gritty details. When it comes to Affinity Trio's "Hindsight," we're hearing a rich curriculum of jazz history and today's jazz sounds. Starting with Jacobson's "Open Windows," the track reveals each musician's technical abilities right off the bat. Jacobson's trumpet isn't just warm; it's masterfully controlled, executing runs and trills that demand attention. York's piano fills in the texture, responding and initiating thematic ideas like a seasoned scholar at a symposium. And let's not overlook Schaub’s bass, which provides the harmonic foundation that the other instruments so eloquently dance over.

Following that, we have "Fitzroy" by Schaub. This tune delivers a rhythmic cadence that isn't just interesting; it showcases how well the trio listens to each other. They play with a level of anticipation that's palpable, engaging in call-and-response sections that give the feeling of an academic debate, but a friendly one, where everyone leaves enlightened.

Then there's "Tin Tin Deo," a Latin jazz piece where the absence of drums is barely noticed. York and Schaub collaboratively create a Latin groove so convincing you almost forget it's a trio. The switches between Latin and swing feels are smooth, showcasing their genre versatility. Jacobson's swinging solo is a delight with flowing lines and his magic tone.

"Blues for Change," penned by York, is no less captivating. It's a track where each musician gets to 'blow off some steam,' so to speak. York's solo is rooted in the blues scale but ventures into some chromaticism, displaying a solid grasp of both tradition and innovation. Schaub's bass solo keeps the rhythm driving, proving that melody and timekeeping can happily coexist in the low end.

As for "Theme for Ernie," this ballad is a high point in the album's emotional arc. The trio doesn't just play the changes; they narrate a story. The choice of timbre and pacing makes this track a reflective pause in the middle of an energetic set.

Rounding out the review, the latter part of the album features tunes like "Parisian Poet" and "Hindsight," where the trio again exhibits their creative unity. "Parisian Poet" is a York original that combines harmonic richness with melodic simplicity, resulting in a memorable experience. "Hindsight," named after the album, serves almost like a recap—a thoughtful conclusion to a dissertation, if you will.

So, in sum, "Hindsight" offers a varied yet coherent musical landscape, presented by three musicians deeply in tune with each other. "Hindsight" introduces us to Affinity Trio's promising future, and if this album were a course, you'd be talking about it long after graduation. Study up!

DAVID LARSEN The Peplowski Project

Album · 2023 · Cool Jazz
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Let's get into it. First off, we're talking about David Larsen's album "The Peplowski Project," a tribute to straight-ahead jazz and the Al Cohn/Zoot Sims quintet of the 1950s. Larsen is both an educator and a practitioner of jazz, adding academic and experiential dimensions to his music. The album boasts a mix of jazz standards, Cohn arrangements, and Larsen's original compositions, all of which are served with a sonic flavor that blends the old with the new. With that as a backdrop, let's dig into this album, shall we?

Now, listen up, swing lovers, because the rhythm section on this album is what we in the biz call "tight." Jake Svendsen on piano, Josh Skinner on bass, and Brendan McMurphy on drums are not just accompanying musicians here; they're an integral part of the project. Svendsen's piano work adds a sophisticated color palette, bringing nuanced flair to tunes like "Love Me or Leave Me." Meanwhile, Skinner's bass lines are a lesson in harmonic foundations. Check out his role in "Black Nightgown"; he starts off with just Peplowski, creating a duo that's delicate but articulate. McMurphy on drums gives the ensemble its pulse, its heartbeat if you will, contributing significantly to tracks like "He Who Getz the Last Laugh."

So, let's talk instrumentation. The combo of clarinet and different types of saxophones is somewhat of a rarity these days, making this a must-listen. On "All the Things You Are," for instance, Larsen's baritone sax kicks off the album with gravitas, while Ken Peplowski's clarinet responds with eloquence. This contrast in timbre showcases the versatility of reed instruments in a jazz setting, adding layers of complexity and texture.

And let's not overlook the album's tribute to the legendary Al Cohn. If Cohn was a novelist, Larsen has become a master of his literary style. Originals like "Into the Mild" and "Tenor for Dinner" pay homage without veering into imitation. They encapsulate the spirit of 1950s jazz—those harmonic choices, those groovy rhythms, but all with an exceptional touch.

"Black Nightgown" provides an excellent microcosm of the album's thematic elements. Set to a relaxed medium swing, the ensemble initially builds a light, airy environment that methodically crescendos to swing harder as it progresses. Larsen's baritone sax solo showcases his stylistic skill; his ideas dance out of his horn with clear articulation, harmonic spellings, and a big, round tone that commands attention. Then enters Peplowski with his clarinet solo, initially accompanied solely by Skinner on bass. It's a return to the light and delicate style of the beginning, an exercise in atmospheric contrast. Once McMurphy and Svendsen rejoin the space, there's an unmistakable lift in energy. And let me tell you, Peplowski responds in kind, adding dynamic layers to his clarinet playing that elevates the track to new heights.

To be clear, the dynamic unfolding in "Black Nightgown" is no one-time-wonder; it is a sonic blueprint for the entire album. Just like a well-structured syllabus, it gives you an idea of what's to come—ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys—all while keeping you engaged and, dare I say, emotionally invested.

Alright, let's kick it up a notch, my scholarly audiophiles! We've talked about some standout tracks already, but there's so much more to unpack in "The Peplowski Project." These additional compositions not only show off the ensemble's versatility but also the individual mastery of each musician involved. Let's groove through some examples, shall we?

Starting with "Jazz Line Blues," this Al Cohn composition runs for 4:12 and is a deliciously riff-based piece. Larsen comes in strong with a tenor solo that's as engaging as a charismatic lecturer on the first day of class. Peplowski follows suit, maneuvering his tenor through the iconic rhythm changes with fluid lines and a rhythm so tight it would make a metronome jealous.

"Love Me or Leave Me," originally by Walter Donaldson, begins with Svendsen's piano setting a shuffle swing tone that's as excellent and fluid as a well-argued thesis. Larsen's tenor and Peplowski's clarinet then dive in, fully embracing the rhythm laid down by the keys.

Now, don't overlook our man Brendan McMurphy on the skins. The drum work on tracks like "Tenor for Dinner" adds intricate polyrhythms, transforming what could've been a standard groove into an intellectual escapade of timing and feel. McMurphy, my friends, is a human swing machine with the soul of a poet.

Finally, let's talk about Larsen's own "Tenor for Dinner," a hard-bop journey that showcases the two saxophones interacting like two intellectuals debating a complex topic. Sometimes they harmonize; other times, they diverge in counterpoint. The improvised solos are the real cherry on top, followed by a trading of phrases that makes for a stimulating auditory experience as enthralling as a plot twist in a good novel. After that enthralling debate in "Tenor for Dinner," brace yourselves, because "Doodle Oodle" is the final exam where our jazz scholars prove they've done their homework and are ready to graduate summa cum laude.

In tracks like "Doodle Oodle," you see Larsen and Peplowski switch gears and turn up the tempo. The rapid pace isn't just for show; it serves as a sonic playground for these musicians to flex their technical prowess. And let me tell you, they execute it with both flair and precision, all the while maintaining the spirit of the '50s jazz language. This is what we call "pedagogy in practice," my friends.

All in all, "The Peplowski Project" is not just an album; it's a masterclass in straight-ahead jazz. It explores the rich textures of reed instruments, delves into complex harmonic landscapes, and swings hard, all while paying homage to jazz greats. It's not just for the Cats; it's for anyone keen on a complex yet accessible musical journey that'll leave you both satiated and hungry for more. It's a win-win, my fellow scholars!

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