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CD Reviews - September 2010
by George Fendel, and Kyle O'Brien

Live In Nice, 1978, Bill Evans, piano.
Collectors will scramble to pick up this previously unissued two-CD set from piano icon Evans. Right off the bat, it’s interesting to note the trio of Evans, Marc Johnson and Philly Joe Jones, a group which never did a studio date. The tunes performed here certainly represent frequent Evans choices of the period. They include “Nardis,” “MASH,” “The Peacocks,” “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “On Green Dolphin Street.” Alto legend Lee Konitz is added on the next three selections, all from the standard American Songbook. Disc two opens with trombone ace Curtis Fuller joining Konitz and the Evans group on a twelve minute “Lover Man”; and Stan Getz and Fuller are also featured on a lengthy journey called “All The Things You Are.” Highlight follows highlight here as Evans is also interviewed by Leonard Feather. In their brief conversation, Evans speaks to the thinking behind his celebrated gentle sound. Most fascinating! Another bonus here is the presence of a few additional tunes recorded in Italy about ten days after the Nice concert. For those who question the sound quality of live recordings never intended for commercial release Ö well, relax. This material is radio worthy, and the recording quality is splendid. Only those in attendance at Le Grande Parade Du Jazz on July 7, 1978, have experienced this musical magic. Now it’s your turn.
Jazz Lips, 2010, two CDs: 57:01 and 59:33.

Organ Monk, Greg Lewis, organ.
Those of you who have read my reviews or listened to my radio program over the last couple decades are well aware that I am not a rabid, wild-eyed fan of jazz organ. Having said that, I must admit that the music of Thelonious Monk lends itself to an organ trio real well. On his debut recording, New Yorker Lewis joins forces with Ron Jackson, guitar, and Cindy Blackman, drums. They take on a selection of Monk pieces and seem to opt for the slightly lesser-known ones. Hence there’s no “Straight No Chaser” or “‘Round Midnight.” Instead, we’re treated to “Twinkle Tinkle,” “Jackie-ing,” “Criss Cross,” “Played Twice,” “Coming On the Hudson,” “We See,” “Think of One,” “Monk’s Mood” and lots more. Fourteen in all. Well, really fifteen if you throw in one rather Monkish Lewis original. Among his influences, Lewis lists Larry Young and Jimmy Smith, reason enough for his CD to impress a reviewer not often drawn to organ records. Gotta be honest, I sure liked this one.
Self-produced, 2010.

Grace, Michael Dease, trombone.
The younger generation just keeps turning ‘em out, and so you’d better remember the name Michael Dease. There’s still a place in jazz for rendering seriously good music with a sense of swing and lyricsm to spare. Dease, from all accounts, is an advocate of such a theory. Just listen to his unforced, shimmering sound on the opener here, a lesser-known Jobim gem called “Discussao.” Dease’s basic quartet includes Cyrus Chestnut, piano, Rufus Reid, bass, and Gene Jackson, drums. To that foursome add distinguished guests on tunes here and there, including Claudio Roditi, Roy Hargrove, Eric Alexander and Mark Whitfield. On an altogether satisfying musical journey, Dease takes us to McCoy Tyner’s “Blues On the Corner”; Bix’s delicate “In a Mist”; a lightning quick Oscar Peterson thing called “Trippin’”; Coltrane’s complex “26-2;” and an album highlight in Ivan Lins’ romantic “Love Dance.” Perhaps the surprise of the set is Miles Davis’ “Four,” taken at a very slow tempo and thereby reshaping it as a ballad. On all these and more, Dease makes his case for consideration among the premier trombone players of the day.
Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010, 66:31.

Reunion, Hadley Caliman and Pete Christlieb, tenor saxophones.
The two tenor concept is nothing new in jazz. But when played by the best of the lot, it can be highly exciting and musically fulfilling. Such is the case here with Seattle veteran Caliman and LA kingpin Christlieb. With an all-Seattle rhythm section of Bill Anschell, piano, Chuck Deardorf, bass, and John Bishop, drums, the two renew a long standing musical friendship with an album dotted with original compositions by its participants, and a few “for good measure standards.” In his yourh, Caliman idolized Dexter Gordon to the point where “I had his sound down!” Caliman acquired the nickmame “little Dex,” hence the album opener, a vigorous Bill Anschell blues, is titled “Little Dex.” The first of the standards follows in Freddie Hubbard’s classic “Up Jumped Spring.” Two Caliman originals follow; the high octane “Commencia” and the nearly plaintive “Gala.” As fine as this meeting of two tenors undeniably is, the solo tunes for each tenor man are something to behold. Haliman’s “I Thought About You” and Christlieb’s “Dream On,” utilizing “Darn That Dream” changes, both score major emotion points. Just to prove that their bop chops are solidly intact, the two tenor titans bring the show to a close with a bristling “Love For Sale.” All of these pieces and more add up to a near lesson in jazz history from two cats who still have a story to tell.
Origin, 2010, 64:00.

Sketches, Amina Figarova, piano.
Here is a pianist and composer gaining in stature with each passing year. Born in Azerbijan and classically trained, Figarova is entrenched in the jazz art, and her writing can move from lyrical and romantic to busy, urban and “in your face!” On this recording, she contributes thirteen original compositions reflecting those characteristics and more. Through it all, you’ll hear a skilled, sometimes virtuosic pianist, fully realized and most impressive. There are influences of such disparate voices as Ellington, Holman, Hancock and Gil Evans in her writing, while fre-quently her classical muse takes center stage. For this session, she is joined by five colleagues, all new names to me. Ernie Harmmes, trumpet and flugelhorn, Marc Mormmans, tenor sax, Bart Plateau, flutes, Jeroen Vierdag, bass, and Chris “Buckshot” Strik, drums. All contribute to a recording which shifts in colors and moods. Underpinning the entire setting is Figarova’s often riveting piano. Rich musical textures abound here, as Figarova continues to carve out an impressive career.
Munich Records, 2010, 79:40.

Blow Away, Janis Mann, vocals.
A former Seattleite now working out of Los Angeles, Mann is thoroughly a jazz singer, and a very good one. In fact, her phrasing and even her vocal quality sometimes remind me just a smidge of Annie Ross, not exactly a lightweight in the jazz hall of fame. This is her sixth CD, and she more than cuts the mustard in her meeting with a Southland trio of Bill Cunliffe, piano, Christoph Luty, bass, and Roy McCurdy, drums. Her musical pallet extends from silky ballads like “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” and “Never Let Me Go” to underdone but welcome faves such as “It’s Always You,” “I Got Lost in His Arms,” and the bebop ballad flagbearer, a stunning “If You Could See Me Now.” The spirit of Johnny Mercer also lingers close by with two of his songs: “That Old Black Magic” (with Harold Arlen) and “Moment to Moment” (with Henry Mancini). Speaking of Mancini, his “hit” “Slow Hot Wind” is also included here. A fresh new tune, “You’ll See,” is a beauty from the English composer-lyricist, Carroll Coates. He’s one of those composers whose songs and lyrics have a timeless quality — in the mode of the Bergmanns perhaps. Mann interprets it with tenderness and passion. Throughout this classic date with her outstanding trio, she lays it all on the line, communicating from the heart.
Pancake Records, 2010, 44:44.

En Route, Ed Bennett, bass.
Ed Bennett has carved out quite a niche among bass players in his twenty or so years as a Portlander. I love catching him on the last Friday of each month at Wilf’s in his longtime association with Tony Pacini, piano, and Tim Rap, drums. But for this recording, the versatile ex-Carmen McRae bassist chose a different path, enlisting the considerable skills of Paul Mazzio, trumpet and flugelhorn, Scott Hall, tenor and soprano sax, Dan Gaynor, piano, and Todd Strait, drums. All of the tunes, save one, are Bennett originals, and at least a few deserve special mention. “Solari” is a very uninhibited, spirited line with espeically invigorating solos from Mazzio and Gaynor. “Ask Me How” is Bennett’s clever realignment of the melody line of the Monk classic, “Ask Me Now.” And the title tune has that breezy, freeway feel to it. On the latter tune, Gaynor and Hall offer resilient solo work preceding Bennett’s own solo statement. “S & W” is yet another straightahead swinger, and is followed by the disc’s only standard. It’s a chance for the leader to shine on “For Heaven’s Sake.” Mazzio’s silvery flugelhorn touch is featured on the Brazil-flavored “Suavmente Ahora”; and “When It Was” showcases Bennett’s skill on a lilting waltz. These and others all add up to a melodic, swinging, in-the-pocket album of real deal jazz. Bennett is undoubtedly one of the few remaining totally acoutic bassists on planet Earth. And the music heard here defines him as a life long jazz musician.
Saphu, 2010, 59:55.

Standard Transmission, Bruce Williamsoon, alto sax, other reeds.
Deep in the shed, New York alto ace Williamson teams up with the admired veteran pianist Art Lande in a quartet setting mainly devoted to favorite melodies of long standing. Hence, the clever album title. The quartet is completed by Peter Barshay, bass, and Alan Hall, drums. Among many high moments here, try “Just You, Just Me.” A guy named Monk turned it into “Evidence” quite some years ago, and Williamson, Lande and company bring out that spirit. Williamson turns to soprano on “All of Me,” and Lande contributes some new harmonies. “Steps to A Dream” is actually a medley of two tunes, unrelated to one another except in their titles: “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Weaver of Dreams.” Lande has never feared stepping out a bit, and he does so on “Don’t Blame Me” by choosing the melodica over piano. It results in an almost ethereal version of the old chestnut. “Sweet and Lovely” is a straightahead swinger, and “Nature Boy” brings on a return to the soprano and features Lande in an appropriately Eastern calm. Williamson’s versatility continues as he plays flute on “The Touch of Your Lips,” and the album ends with a head scratching medley. Can you imagine Monk’s “Misterioso” and “How High the Moon” played simultaneously? A fascinating 1:06 which leaves you wondering how they may have further improvised on the two tunes. All told, this is a CD of thoughtful creativity, often fascinating harmonically. These musicians take standards in hand, giving them new attire in many ways, but are careful not to assault melodies that are a revered part of Songbook America. Quite refreshing, one might say!
Origin, 2010, 61:32.

Welcome To New York, Ehud Asherie piano.
Chalk up another native of Israel in the up and coming file of gifted jazz musicians. Asherie was born there in 1979, eventually moving with his family to New York. Already a fixture on the Apple circuit, he’s worked with an impressive roster that includes Harry Allen, Scott Hamilton, Peter Bernstein, Joe Cohn, Eric Alexander and Clark Terry. His debut recording for Arbors puts him squarely in the solo spotlight, and he has no problem with the glare of history. In a most lyrical style, which honors both the swingsters and bop leaders of the past, Asherie’s elegant touch and wealth of ideas flow freely on a baker’s dozen songs honoring New York. One of the bigger surprises was his take on a Thelonious Monk classic. He cruises a la James P. ”Fats” Waller, and you’ll have to think for a moment before you realize it’s “52nd Street Theme” you’re hearing. Another surprise is the inclusion of “Lovers in New York,” a lovely Henry Mancini theme from Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Ah, what delightful memories of Audrey Hepburn! But Asherie also gets to the heart of ballads such as “Autumn in New York” and two Leonard Bernsterin gems, “Somewhere” and “Lonely Town.” Other songs of the great city include “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” “42nd Street,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Manhattan,” “Take The ‘A’ Train” and more. Asherie’s playing belies his young years. He has already ingested the essence of sophisticated American piano jazz. One can only guess as to how far his muse may carry him.
Arbors, 2010, 62:10.

Make It Right, Primo Kim, piano, vocals.
It’s a rare occasion these days when a male vocalist happens along and has something to say in a jazz sense. Plenty of girl singers and some good, most not so. But guys? Few and far between. So, please welcome Primo Kim, a Seattle-based singer-pianist who has a sparkling new CD. He hired some heavyweights to arrange and play on several selections. Seattle vets Randy Halberstadt, Jeff Johnson, Jay Thomas, Bill Ramsay and many others all contribute to a well-balanced CD featuring both orchestral arrangements and some trio outings as well. You’ll know most of the tunes. Familiar fare such as “Isn’t It Romantic,” “Who Cares,” “Love Dance,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Here’s to Life,” “Joy Spring” and more. A few new and original compositions also raise a spark. Among them, the title tune, an energetic instrumental featuring Kim on piano and Dennis Mackrel’s arrangement; or how about “Fancy Meeting You,” a “Second Time Around” type of tune by June Tonkin, a friend of Kim’s; finally there’s “Paradise For Two,” an intimately swinging entry. All these and more add up to a wonderfully paced, extremely satisfying session. Kim reminds me just a bit of another pianist-singer that I’ve long admired, Carlos Franzetti. His new CD is definitely a day brightener.
Self-produced, 2010, 56:51.

Out Of The Blue, Christian Howes, violin, electric violin.
Here is where jazz and blues meet rather well. Okay, I’ve never made the list of jazz violin aficionados, but Howes definitely is well into the “groove,” whatever that means! Just check him out on the old Fats Domino warhorse, “I’m Walkin’.” His violin cuts a swath that works to perfection. In walks the blues on nearly all cuts in the person of Robben Ford, a seasoned blues guitarist. And to add a touch of jazz elegance and tasteful piano, the versatile Tamir Hendelman lends his considerable talent to five tunes, notably Horace Silver’s “Cape Verdean Blues.” Other choices from “the book” include Chick Corea’s “Fingerprints”; Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave”; and the evergreen, “Sweet Lorraine.” Most of the remaining fare is dedicated to Howes’ original blues lines. I must say that the combination of violin and guitar works better than you might think. If all this effort is not at the top of my list, I must admit that it’s done with energy and vitality.
Resonance Records, 2010, 61:11.

Jasmine, Keith Jarrett, piano and Charlie Haden, bass.
Intimate, gorgeous, classic, romantic, heartfelt. Any of these will do nicely to describe this meeting of giants. But really, all five adjectives might be put into play to announce this very special collaboration of Jarrett and Haden. It’s no secret that the two share an affinity for all things beautiful in their musical worlds. They’ve proven it over many years of recording with, respectively, Keith’s acclaimed trio and Charlie’s brilliant Quartet West. This gem was recorded in Keith’s home studio, probably giving an added boost of intimacy to the proceedings. To be clear, this is an album of classic American Songbook ballads including “For All We Know,” “Where Can I Go Without You,” “No Moon At All,” “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life,” “Body and Soul,” “Goodbye” and “Don’t Ever Leave Me.” The only unfamiliar entry was Joe Sample’s “One Day I’ll Fly Away.” It’s difficult to cast a vote here for one or two songs over the rest when the entire CD is like a fragrant bouquet. If, like me, you love the piano, and if, like me, you love timeless ballads, put this one on your list. It’ll carry you away with its simple, sincere beauty.
ECM, 2010l 62:30.

Camera Obscura, Sara Serpa, vocals, Ran Blake, piano.
This lifelong jazz thing is also a lifelong learning process, but you already knew that. The name Ran Blake is one that I’ve heard for years, but I’ve always associated him with the avante garde, not really my “garde-n.” But here he is with singer Sara Serpa, who hails from Lisbon, Portugal. They met while she was a student at New England Conservatory in Boston. The album is the essence of communication and intimacy, with Blake’s dissonant but wonderfully conceived chords in the role of accompanist. Serpa possesses a very sweet voice with no gimmicks or show biz licks. Together, they’re very impressive on familiar tunes such as “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “I Should Care,” “Get Out of Town” and “April in Paris.” The two even take on a brief version of Thelonious Monk’s “Nutty,” perhaps the surprise of the set. Several lesser known selections complete the program. The innocense of her voice and the distinctive harmonic ideas of his piano create an almost eerie connection at times. This is music for serious listening. But if you have the ears for it, the duo of Blake and Serpa will speak to you.
Inner Circle Music, 2010, 29:43.

It’s About Time, Jacob Melchior, drums.
Born in 1970 in Denmark, Melchoir honed his jazz chops in Brazil but has been an active part of the churning New York jazz roller coaster for some years now. His trio mates here include two other busy denizens of The Apple, Tadataka Unno, piano, and Hassan JJ Shakur, bass, the son of piano marvel Gerry Wiggins. On this “on the spot” recording, as Melchior refers to it. the trio breezes through a set of standards and a few surprises. The album opens with Melchoir conception of “Squatty Roo,” which he calls “Dancing Foo,” eventually moving directly into the Johnny Hodges piece. A little known Jobim composition, “Brigas Nunca Mais,” follows; after which singer Frank Senior tries his luck on the standard “For All We Know.” Other highlights here include a rather lilting “You Don’t Know What Love Is”; a well-titled original called “Summer Fair”; a delicate ballad treatment of “It Might as Well Be Spring”; and a swinging set closer on “Lover” and “Gerry’s Wig,” a tip of the hat to Wiggins. Special kudos to pianist Unno, who plays some exhilarating piano, very much within the tradition. As for Melchoir, he’s in “accompanist mode.” No showy stuff here. He finds other, more sophisticated ways to impress the listener.
Self-produced, 2010, times not indicated.

Imaginary Numbers, Tom Rizzo, guitar.
Sometimes we simply tilt our head and mutter, “where has this guy been hiding?” Rizzo is veteran of the Los Angeles jazz crowd, so why haven’t we heard about him ... ever ... in any context. Well, go figure. You can catch him right here, and in the top rung company of LA greats including Bob Shepard, Bob Summers, Joe LaBarbera, Rich Eares and Tom Warrington. With arrangements by the trombonist on the date, Nick Lane, and the addition of a tuba and a French horn, the music bears an up-to-date resemblance to the celebrated “Birth of the Cool.” Rizzo contributes three originals, and the remaining seven will bring to mind classics from the old days of Blue Note and Prestige. Just how far wrong can you go when a tightly arranged octet gives you “Oleo,” “Lament,” “One For Daddy-O,” “Shirley,” “Stella By Starlight” and “Along Came Betty.” Apparently Rizzo WAS hiding. He spent the Carson years in the Tonight Show Orchestra, and did a batch of television studio stuff, both writing and playing. All that most likely makes for a secure lifestyle, but it doesn’t get the man out before the jazz public. Well, here he is! Never too late!
Origin, 2010, 44:13.

The Song Is You, Anandi Gefroh, vocals.
Chalk up another polished singer here in Puddle City! Gefroh’s debut jazz CD is a lesson in subtlety and understatement, traits I happen to greatly admire in singers. That she phrases with a natural jazz sense doesn’t hurt her cause either. For good measure, she takes on both some dyed in the wool standards, including “My Buddy,” “The Song Is You” and “It’s Crazy.” But she doesn’t shy away from jazz gems like Wayne Shoter’s “Footprints,” Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” “’Round Midnight,” and Dizzy’s jazz anthem, “A Night In Tunisia.” An important aspect of bringing out a “full of feeling” jazz vocal CD involves the wisdom of choosing sympathetic cats to work with. Gefroh has done just that in hiring Vince Frates, piano, Dave Captein, bass, Dave Muldoon, drums; and David Evans, tenor saxophone. Check out Evans’s silvery solo on “Ruby, My Dear.” It’s something to behold. Other entries here include Jobim’s joyous “A Felicidade,” and a couple of ballads including “Another Star” and her own rather contemporary-sounding original, “Forgiveness.” I’m confident we’ll be seeing more of Gefroh in Portland area venues. Her impressive first outing is sure to raise some eyebrows in our neck of the woods.
Self-produced, 2010, 51:42.

Tell Her For Me, Henry Darragh, vocals, piano, trombone.
Houston is home base for Darragh, who is as likely to be heard in that area with Joe B’s Rebel Crew as he is in various jazz settings. He’s a singer who sounds a bit like Harry Conick (but rougher edged) or sometimes like a Michael Franks who finally came out of the coma. Darragh’s high-pitched voice works nicely on standards such as “Hey There,” “Everything Happens to Me” and “Look For the Silver Lining” (remeber Chet’s version?). It’s also apparent that Darragh writes some nice, literate songs — pleasant enough melody lines and lyrics that can be pensive or clever, depending on the assignment. The title tune is an example. It could have been a “thirties type standard.” Finally, there’s a Bob Dorough-like opus called “The Harvard Dictionary of Music,” a concise two-minute explanation of the famous volume of the “last word” in music. Darragh’s finely honed piano enjoys the company of several Houston colleagues.
Self-produced, 2010, 49:09.

Things To Come, Milton Suggs, vocals.
A new voice on the scene, Suggs possesses a strong, polished baritone that he applies here on a menu of mostly original compositions. “‘Round Midnight” and, oddly, “We Shall Overcome,” are the only familiar choices here. Otherwise, it’s primarily Suggs and a selection of “message” songs. His style seems to suggest that of jazz-soul singers such as Ernie Andrews or Lou Rawls. And he handles the assignment with gusto!
Skiptone Music, 2010, times not indicated.

Courage To Be, Robert Branch, guitar.
I’m not the ultimate judge of fusion guitarists, but I think “fusion” would be a kind way to describe Minneapolis guitarist Branch. His ten original pieces screech and scream in a strange, unpretty way. He is joined by fellow fusioneers David Gonzalez, bass, and Tim Zhorne, drums. This is fodder for the inappropriately named “smooth jazz” radio stations, if indeed there are any still in operation. Pity the fusion folk. In most cases, they can play. And one day, they likely will.
Self-produced, 2010, times not indicated.

Flights, Mike Herriott, flugelhorn and Sean Harkness, guitar.
Here’s one of those mixed reports. On a program of ten original compositions, I was duly impressed with Herriott’s beautiful sound on the flugelhorn. I was less than glued to the often over-amplifed, contemporary leanings of the guitar of Sean Harkness. Too much backbeat here as well. Just put Herriott in a serious jazz setting, and his polished flugelhorn would be something to admire.
Self-produced, 2009, 59:38.

Old Time Guy, Brent Rusinow, bass.
A transtplanted Bostonian now calling Seattle home, Rusinow got a few of his Beantown pals together before splitting for the West, and this album is the result. Rusinow displays exceptional facility and control on a date featuring four orignals by his pianist, Jim Stinnett, and three standards: “All the Things You Are,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Misty.” As one might expect on a recording date led by a bassist, most of the selections put Rusinow in a feature role. He handles it with some spice and some style.
Self-produced, 2009, 32:36.

Desert Island Dreamers, The Pizzarellis: Bucky, guitar; John, guitar; Martin, bass.
This CD runs the gamut from great melodies (“By Myself,” “Over the Rainbow” and “Emily”) to the pop pap of decades ago (“Cycles”). From the traditional bag there’s “Greensleeves” and “Danny Boy,” and there’s a Rod McKuen oddity that Sinatra sang long ago called “A Man Alone.” My impression, however, was that while the music is pleasant enough and played well, the session really never quite gets off the ground. Another day at the office, one might say, albeit from a family of distinctive musical talent.
Arbors, 2010, 63:27.

A Time of New Beginnings, Chie Imaizumi, composer and arranger.
A native of Japan, Imaizumi’s original compositions combine musical facets of her native country with those found here. It is easy to determine that her compositions are “songs” in that there is a recognizable melodic statement, a bridge and a return. These often-exquisite lines are played here by a combination of jazz greats from East and West. To name but a few: Gary Smulyan, Terrell Stafford, John Clayton, Tamir Hendelman and Randy Brecker. It’s all here. Creative writing for big band; room for soloists to emote; and a charming but subtle blend of musical cultures sure to please.
Capri, 2010, 63:18.

Live At The Iridium, Nobuki Takanmen, guitar.
I always hold my breath before previewing a new guitar album. Thankfully, Takamen makes the guitar sound like, well, a guitar! What’s more, his original compositions swing and sound like “real songs.” That in itself is becoming more rare today. His quartet was recorded live at The Iridium, a New York City jazz club, and what you hear is one entire set. Takamen has obviously done his homework; he honors the greats of the jazz guitar and maintains that tradition. His playing rangers from stunning to delicate, and always possesses a sense of great musicianship and taste.
Summit Records, 2010, 57:22.

Gone, Dave Bass Quartet, Dave Bass, piano.
A musician turned lawyer, and apparently now both, Bass is currently a California Deputy Attorney General in civil rights enforcement. Away from music for the last twenty years, this album marks his re-emergence in the jazz world. He examines eleven original compositions here in the company of Ernie Watts, tenor, Gary Brown, bass, and Babatunde Lea, drums. Mary Stallings pays a visit on two vocals. As skilled a lawyer as Bass may well be, there’s always room in our world for another swinging jazz pianist.
Self-produced, 2010, 69:09.

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