Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yesterdays Protest Song for Today

By Jim Webb

On October 15, 2009 CNN reported that home foreclosures hit an all- time record high in the third quarter of this year. One in every 136 US homes is either in default, auction notice or bank repossession. In 1949, a New York State apple farmer named Les Rice wrote a song called Banks of Marble that detailed the plight of the working man, and their struggles against the Banks. Les was a neighbor of folk singer Pete Seeger, and a one-time president of the Ulster County Farmers Union. Pete’s group The Weavers recorded the song in 1950, and it has been a popular union song ever since, particularly in Ireland. American singer / songwriter Iris Dement has also performed the tune live on her recent tours.

Banks of Marble
We've traveled 'round this country
from shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
the things I heard and saw

I saw the weary farmer
plowing sod and loam
I heard the auction hammer
just a-knocking down his home

But the banks are made of marble
with a guard at every door
and the vaults are stuffed with silver
that the farmer sweated for

I’ve seen the weary miner
scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children cryin'
"Got no coal to heat the shack"
But the banks are made of marble
with a guard at every door
and the vaults are stuffed with silver
that the miner sweated for

I've seen my brothers working
throughout this mighty land
I prayed we'd get together
and together make a stand
Then we might own those banks of marble
with a guard at every door
and we might share those vaults of silver
that we have sweated for

-Les Rice

If Les was still around I know how he would feel about using tax payer money to bail out failing banks. All this talk about home foreclosures reminds me of an old adage: Buy land, it’s the only thing they can’t make more of. I hope no one else loses their job, and you can afford your mortgage payments, or you might wind up singing a certain tune from 1949.
-Jim Webb

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The First Time I Met The Blues

By Jim Webb

When I was in the eighth grade at Cecelia Snyder Middle School in 1971 we had a substitute one day for our regular science teacher Mr. Moser. Science class was the first period after the lunch break, and with time to kill I decided to head there early. I wandered into an empty classroom and sat down at my seat. Pretty soon everybody else would start to casually file in, just another routine in a school day that had plenty of them to spare. As I sat in my chair I glanced up at the blackboard, and a phrase was written in the middle of it.

"When a man is down, the Blues are his best friend." - Muddy Waters

I read it a couple of times, but had no idea why it was up there, and watched as a few classmates started to stream in. The substitute teacher finally made his appearance as an ordinary looking, middle-aged white guy with a beard. Most subs fall into two types, the ones who want to continue the lesson plan as if they were the regular teacher, or they just give everyone a free study hall to due anything they want, as long as it stays quiet. He said he wasn’t comfortable doing the science work left for us, and instead we would have a discussion. After he read the quote that had been written behind him in chalk, he asked if anyone had ever heard of Muddy Waters. No one responded, so he went into a brief history of the blues, and eventually he even got a few kids to ask some questions. Somebody asked if Muddy was his real name, and that set off another long story about how musicians sometimes had nicknames and different performing names, turns out Muddys actual name was McKinley Morganfield. Old stories and songs from long ago, the whole thing sounded like they could have known Huckleberry Finn. At thirteen years old, this blues thing didn’t seem too exciting. The whole conversation was unusual, but subs sometimes acted a little weird, and the hour seemed to go by quickly with everyone bolting the room as soon as the ending bell rang.

In September of 1975, I went to an Allman Brothers concert at The Spectrum arena in Philadelphia and the opening act was Muddy Waters. It was a sold out concert, so there was about 18,000 people crammed into this big airplane hanger of a building. Muddy sat on a stool near the front of the stage while his band was behind him, and played for about thirty minutes. The Allman Brothers were a blues – rock band, so the crowd treated Muddy with respect. Polite applause after each number, but everyone was there to get crazy with some Southern Rock a little later. For the last song of his set, Muddy got off the stool and really leaned into a tune called, Got My Mojo Working. The crowd started to catch fire as this legendary old man of the Blues gyrated across the stage, barking out words, he was gonna show that big rock crowd he still had some gas left in the tank. He gave a quick wave to the crowd, and left to a loud ovation.

The seventies came and went, as did most of the punk and new wave bands that I religiously followed. Never missed a local concert by The Clash, or The Ramones, but by 1982 that whole scene was getting a little stale to me. Fashion bands like Duran Duran and Culture Club were everywhere; it was time to go in a different direction. Between 1983 and 1987, I headed straight for the Blues. Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Otis Rush, and John Lee Hooker are just some of the names we saw. After Willie Dixon and his Chicago Blues All-Stars played at The Chestnut Cabaret we went backstage to say hello. You could do that after a blues gig, no heavy security or a big entourage to stop you. Willie was one of the all-time great Blues songwriters that also played bass and had written numerous hits in the ‘50’s like Little Red Rooster, Hoochie Coochie Man, Spoonful, and I Just Want to Make Love to You. He was a huge influence on The Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and hundreds of other bands. Willie was a big man, well over six feet tall, but he was still carrying around a lot of extra weight. The sweat was dripping off him; his clothes were soaked with perspiration from just escaping the hot stage lights. He was close to seventy years old, tired from still pulling one nighters all across the country, but he greeted us like we were old cousins from Chicago. With a smile on his face he said,” How ya doin’ fellas, how was it.” I was fumbling around for words; did I just hear Willie Dixon ask me how he played? “You sounded great,” was all I said. There were a hundred questions racing through my mind that I wanted to ask him; about songs he wrote, and old Bluesmen that he’d played with. He looked content sitting there resting on an old wooden chair, but he also appeared worn down. The questions I had ready to fire at him suddenly didn’t seem very important. My friend and I settled for an autograph on a scrap of paper, we shook Willie’s hand and left.

When a man is down, the Blues are his best friend. I had no idea what that meant as a thirteen year old. Muddy and Willie were both African-Americans, born in Mississippi at a time when the color of your skin determined what kind of life you would lead. Growing up in the 1920’s outside of Vicksburg and Clarksdale, they knew what it meant to be down. Almost everything, and as far as they could see was down. They didn’t have any rich relatives with good paying jobs; most of their kin scratched out a living working the soil all day long, they called it sharecropping. When things seemed like they just couldn’t get any harder, music became a way out of the madness for them. Muddy Waters and his good friend Willie Dixon passed away many years ago. They left behind a lot of great music, but more importantly, inside the songs they left us their hard earned truths.
-Jim Webb

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2012: The Return of Skiffle?

by Jim Webb

Modern day astronomers have calculated that on Dec. 21, 2012 our Sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time in 26,000 years. I don’t think that it’s pure coincidence that the Mayan Long Count Calendar also predicts major changes at that same exact time. Some New Age shysters and general doom sayers have used this date to predict the end of the world. A closer look at The Dresden Codex (a historic Mayan work decoded) spoke of many things that were to happen on that date, and none of them specifically spoke of the Earth’s annihilation.

Here are some of the events that were prophesized over 1,000 years ago by the Mayan Indian Tribe for December 21, 2012; and why I feel they foreshadow the possible return of Skiffle.

1.) Physical or spiritual transformation will occur.
- Skiffle has this power over people, as witnessed during the 1950’s in the United Kingdom. It affected the lives and career paths of many people and was a positive life changing force.

2.) It will be a tremendously important event.
- After being exposed to a small dose of Skiffle in the mid to late 50’s, it has been estimated that from 30,000 to 50,000 British youths immediately created their own groups. Imagine what will happen if the whole world becomes infatuated with it.

3.) A major upheaval will take place.
- What could be more life changing than millions of people giving up their misguided enjoyment of rap, AOR (album oriented rock, for Rummy in El Prado) and general pop schlock for the organic vibrations of Skiffle?

Wait a minute, some of you might be thinking – what the hell is Skiffle? It originally started here in the good old U.S.of A. in the early 20th century. It was plain jug /string band music that had acoustic banjo, guitar, fiddle and even a kazoo thrown in at times. Homemade instruments made it affordable to just about anyone, but its popularity waned with the sophistication of Big Bands and commercial pop music. A revival of sorts occurred in British clubs of the mid fifties when jazz musicians took a short break or “Skiffle”, and certain players stayed for an up tempo set of old tunes in the traditional way. Lonnie Donegan became the most famous of these musicians and ultimately had twenty four successive top thirty UK hits. His, and Skiffle’s peak was 1957 when he ruled the airwaves with his no. 1 hit Gamblin’ Man. Such future rock luminaries as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore (there’s a name The Secret Museum rarely mentions) were hooked on Skiffle at a young age and then spent untold hours banging away on their acoustic guitars. Skiffle was pretty wild for its day, but couldn’t compete with the uninhibited sexual energy and loud electric instruments of Rock and Roll, and like The Maya, mysteriously vanished.

The Mayan’s in their rituals and ceremonies were very aware of the cyclical nature of life. If they would have lived long enough they would have experienced and heard music go through its own cycles. Psychedelic Rock, Ska, Glam Rock, and Roots music have all come and gone in their popularity through the years. When we get tired of Alice Coopers Shock Rock, a few years go by, and then the next generation of youth thinks Marilyn Manson is something new and different. Who would have predicted that 1950’s style short haircuts for guys or Chuck Taylor sneakers would come back into vogue? Skiffle is like an earthquake fault line that is due for an eruption; minor shockwaves have been felt before, and in my opinion it’s just a matter of when. December 21, 2012 – Get your washboard ready, anything is possible, a new cycle is about to begin.
-Jim Webb

That's Entertainment! Sunset Strip Book Clerk Dialogues

The Secret Museum
by Michael Mooney

Michael Mooney
: Your total comes to eighty-three dollars seventy-four cents.
Madonna (to baby daddy companion): What did he say?
Michael Mooney (to b.d.c.): Tell her he said, "It comes to eighty-three dollars seventy-four cents".

Michael Mooney: Hey, Mr. Reynolds, we gotta close now.
Burt Reynolds: Just give me another minute here.
[Five minutes later]
Michael Mooney: I'm sorry, Mr. Reynolds, we have to lock up now.
Burt Reynolds: Okay, just give me another minute here.
[One minute later]
Michael Mooney: Hey, Mr. Re...
Burt Reynolds: I said give me another...
Michael Mooney: GET OUT!!!

Mick Jagger's minder: Excuse me, is it alright if Mick jumps the queue? He's got to catch a plane.
Michael Mooney: Sure, if it's okay with them. [Gestures to line of customers.]
Mick's minder: Pardon me. Is it alright if Mick jumps ahead here? He has to catch a plane.
The Customers: Yes. Absolutely.
Mick Jagger: Cheers.

Michael Mooney
: You can't park there. They'll tow you.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Aww, c'mon, man. Pleeasse?
Michael Mooney: Okay.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Cool!

Michael Mooney: Sorry, Lemmy, you have to take that cigarette outside.
Lemmy: Yeah, alright.
[10 seconds pass]
Michael Mooney: I kind of meant now.
Lemmy: Ah, fuck it!

Bruce Wagner (former hotshot LA novelist): Hey. This is Parker Posey. She's in Party Girl. See? [Gestures to advertisement on nearby billboard.] Can I get a picture of her with you for a piece I'm doing in Premiere?
Michael Mooney: No.

[Prince's driver knocks on locked door at closing time.)
Prince's driver: Can Prince come in?
Michael Mooney: Prince who? [pause]... Just kidding!

Billy Corgan: Where do you keep books on the 1830s?
Michael Mooney: What?
Billy Corgan: The 1830s. It's my favorite decade, history-wise.
Michael Mooney: Oh. Well, let's see. We may have a book on Andrew Jackson, or that new Hans Christian Andersen bio. They were both pretty busy in the '30s. Maybe something on the Greek Revolution?
Billy Corgan: Never mind. Where's the rhyming dictionaries?

Molly Ringwald: Do you have Joyce Carol Oates' On Boxing?
Michael Mooney: I think so. It should be over here in the Sports section.
Molly Ringwald: It's not a sports book; it's a novel.
Michael Mooney: No, it isn't.

Gregory Peck: You're holding a book for me. I'm Gregory Peck.
Michael Mooney: I know that!

[At book signing event]
Michael Mooney: Do you want me to put your jacket in the office, John?
John Lydon: Hah! You're not getting your hands on this. [He strokes the lapels between thumb and forefinger.]
Michael Mooney: Oh, like I'd want to steal that thing.

Suzanne Pleshette [sings]: Come on a my house, my house...
Michael Mooney [sings]: I'm gonna give you a Christmas tree!
Suzanne Pleshette: You have a nice voice.
Michael Mooney: So do you.

Peter Wolf: How do you get to Chatsworth?
Michael Mooney: No idea.
Peter Wolf: I gotta get to Chatsworth.

Co-worker: You remind me of Ice Cube.
Michael Mooney: Thanks. You remind me of Sharleen Spiteri.

1940s tough-guy actor Lawrence Tierney: You from Philly? I spent time in Philly. Good town. You're okay, kid.

Lawrence Tierney: Where's the dictionaries?
Michael Mooney: Just up the steps to the end. Turn left. You can't miss them.
Lawrence Tierney: Take me to them.
Michael Mooney: Sure. Just as soon as I move these books out of the aisle. Be a second.
Lawrence Tierney: Take a shower, you dirty rat bastard! Get a haircut!!
[He strikes Michael Mooney with his cane.]
Michael Mooney: Hey!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fred Van Hove: The Most Adventurous Belgian Piano Player You’ve Never Heard Of

The Secret Museum
By Jim Webb

If you speak Flemish, or are familiar with European improvised music, you might have heard of Fred Van Hove. He is a very talented pianist from Antwerp, Belgium who was born in 1937. His father was a self taught musician who sent Fred at a young age to study classical music. Be-bop became an early passion, but once he was exposed to the liberating music of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler in the mid ‘60’s he quickly became a disciple of the new “free”sound in jazz. By 1966, Fred was right in the middle of the blossoming European jazz/improvised music scene that included his friends Peter Brotzmann and Willem Breuker.

He has a unique style of playing the piano that falls between the cracks (and keys) of jazz and classical music. If you enjoy free jazz icon pianist Cecil Taylor, than unquestionably you will like Mr. Van Hove’s sound. Writer Tom Greenland has likened Fred’s piano playing to a “ballerina in hiking boots.” I would add that he explores the keyboard like it’s a musical Potters Field, unearthing unknown sounds and note combinations to create something truly fresh and original. Danger Will Robinson – Fred has been known to dump a bucket of ping-pong balls on the piano strings to alter the sound of the notes he’s playing. With all this talk of free jazz playing and experimenting with ping-pong balls did I just hear you mumble that he probably sounds like his piano is being thrown down a flight of stairs? Granted, it is very challenging music that Van Hove has created. Sometimes when I’m listening to his solo work (Flux), it sounds like he’s actually building a house. There’s some pounding and hammering on the keyboard at times, like nails being driven into wood. He’s definitely not all high energy; his playing often segues into lyrical, introspective sounding passages that hint at his classical studies as a young man. Mr. Van Hove’s artistry is held in such high regard that in 1996 he was named a Cultural Ambassador by the Belgian Government.

I was lucky enough to see Fred perform a solo concert in 2004 at Victoriaville, Canada as part of the Musique Actuelle Festival. I saw twenty- three gigs over three days (with the legendary Steve O.), and Van Hove was the highlight of the trip for me. He sat down at the piano and proceeded to create a totally improvised forty-five minute piece of music that left everyone stunned at its conclusion. Thunderous eruptions of sound would give way to rolling waves of notes that started at one end of the keyboard and made their way across it until his fingers ran out of keys to play. He would also work inside the piano, hitting the strings with various objects to alter the sound he wanted. No matter how out - there the performance got, Fred never lost his musicality. On a good night, the added beauty of watching and hearing improvised music being created is knowing that these exact sounds would never be heard again.

He is a master pianist, but he will challenge your definition of what that means. It is easy to list some of the different styles he has played in: be-bop, free jazz, improvised music, classical, and church music to name a few. Restrictive labels though don’t apply to Fred; he is simply too big a musical maverick to ever fit into those limiting categories. So, now that you are aware of Fred Van Hove, he is no longer the most adventurous Belgian piano player you’ve never heard of. He’s now just an adventurous Belgian piano player. That’s all he ever wanted to be.

-Jim Webb

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Miles Davis: Fusion- His Final Frontier

The Secret Museum

October 04, 2009

By Jim Webb

Miles Davis
Fusion: His Final Frontier

Editor’s Note: Jim Webb and Michael Mooney knew each in the old neighborhood back in Philadelphia. Many, many, maybe too many? ... no, it’s all about the journey, right? Okay. Years later, events fell from the stars in such a way that Jim found himself living in Santa Fe and Michael living in Taos. Both, truly die hard music fans, write in an almost esoteric, conscious streaming that is reminiscent of fine jazz (Michael) and blues (Jim). Stay tuned and enjoy.

Michael Mooney wrote:
Lydia Garcia is the new publisher of Horse Fly. She has agreed to keep us on (in spite of her copy editor's delicate nervous system); in fact, we'll be appearing in this month's print edition. Jim and I applaud Ms. Garcia's excellent taste in writing, and sound editorial skills.

On May 25, 1961 President John Kennedy declared that we would land an American on the Moon before the end of the decade. That same week trumpeter Miles Davis played Carnegie Hall in New York City with his acoustic jazz group. Since the mid forties Miles had been a pioneer and innovator of such jazz styles as be-bop, cool jazz and now with Gil Evans they were even combining a symphony orchestra with his trumpet playing. Two totally separate events, but in July of 1969 man would land on the moon and be the farthest away he’s ever been from Earth. By the summer of ’69 Miles would have taken jazz far away from its traditional origins, leading an electric crusade into unchartered musical waters.

The manned U.S. space program had several projects to complete before they were ready to tackle landing on the moon. The Mercury and Gemini missions were needed to test out complex maneuvers that were essential for going to the moon and back. In 1964 Miles had formed one of his classic quintets and began a new phase to his music. In order to break down some of the established barriers in jazz, Miles needed a new crew to work with. One of his greatest strengths as a leader was being able to find the right musicians that would help him realize the new sounds he wanted to create. The band took off when Wayne Shorter’s saxophone and Ron Carter’s bass was joined by twenty - three year old Herbie Hancock on piano, and the even younger Tony Williams (17) playing drums.

Classic albums like Nefertiti, Sorcerer, and Miles in The Sky soon followed and established the quintets’ reputation for pushing the boundaries of jazz into new territories. Chord structures were being left behind as they played in a “free” form style and in 1968 electric keyboards and guitar were added to Miles’ sound palette for the first time. More changes in personnel occurred on two key releases in 1969. In A Silent Way not only brought guitarist John McLaughlin into the music, but keyboardist Joe Zawinul as well. In a Silent Way was an electric album, with the tapes heavily edited later by producer Teo Macero, and it helped point the way for the full blown jazz- rock fusion of Bitches Brew.

July 20, 1969 found Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon and the whole world celebrated this historic culmination of technical and human achievement. The three Apollo 11 crew members returned to Earth as heroes and were given a ticker tape parade in New York City. August 19, 1969 saw the album release of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. It was a cauldron of heavy electric riffs, long extended jams, and a volume level unheard of from a jazz musician. Miles started touring with keyboardists Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, while drummer Tony Williams left to form a short lived group with John McLaughlin called Lifetime. This new style was a combination of rock music’s electric volume with Jazz’s virtuosity of musicianship, and was referred to as Jazz-Rock or Fusion. Miles had now not only left all the jazz “rules” behind, playing acoustically with organized chord changes, but he had left most of his original audience of the fifties and sixties behind as well. Hard funk’s influence from James Brown and Sly Stone was also being added to Miles’ new brew and he now played rock venues and sold more records than at any other time in his career. This new fusion of jazz, rock, and funk was beginning to become quite popular. Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul formed a group called Weather Report, and their success was rivaled by John McLaughlin’s new Mahavishnu Orchestra. Chick Corea founded another fusion band titled Return to Forever, and jazz guitarist Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House was also an early jazz-rock favorite. Herbie Hancock had left Miles by the early 70’s and in 1973 his new Headhunters group outsold them all with his funk fueled version of the fusion sound. Miles released Jack Johnson (1971) and then On The Corner, showing on the latter release that he was still in touch with “the street’s” need for funk. Big Fun and Get Up With It were next, both collecting various studio experiments from the 1969 to 1974 period. Tabla and sitar were now adding a world music feel to some of his new tracks, with the influence of modern classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen affecting others. This fusion of many different styles of music with its increasing popularity was being looked at as something to be reckoned with, more than just the latest record company induced fad. Listeners were amazed at the advanced technique that these musicians displayed. Miles forged ahead at an unrelenting pace, recording such dark, intense live albums as Pangaea and Agharta that mirrored his own increasing drug usage and personal problems.

Apollo 17 was the final moon mission in December of 1972, and the Apollo program itself finally ended in 1975. The space program that had until recently been looked at with such necessity and pride by its citizens, now only caused a yawn. Been there, done that. The technological advances that caused such a sensation only a few years before now were looked at as an unnecessary expense. People were out of work and going hungry, who cares about moon rocks? By 1975 fusion was also starting to run its course, and was getting slammed for its cold, unfeeling technical virtuosity. Showing off dazzling technique had been looked at as a welcome departure from basic three chord rock and roll earlier in the decade, now it was becoming a liability in the fickle world of youthful musical tastes. Miles was physically exhausted from the last six years of touring and recording, he decided it was time to pack up his gear and head home to New York. He stopped playing music in July of 1975 and he wouldn’t perform again until 1981. When he returned it was a different world. The record labels had found out how to make money from television, the MTV generation was more interested in watching videos than actually listening to the music. Davis wasn’t even trying to be a trailblazer with his new band; he simply improvised on the melodies that interested him, and worked to get his rusty lip back in shape. I saw Miles live half a dozen times in the ‘80’s, and near the end of his career my favorite tune of the evening was always his instrumental ballad treatment of Cyndi Lauper’s hit Time After Time. The powerful hurricane force winds his bands generated in the seventies had dissipated long ago. He had some decent releases in the eighties (Amandla, Aura), but in my opinion there was nothing that we couldn’t live without. It is painful to write that about such a great musician. Miles may not have known it at the time, but he would never again help blaze a new path in music.

Some critics who only enjoyed traditional sounding jazz have blasted the seventies as a waste of time for listening to Miles Davis. They claimed he was just out to make a quick buck off the rock crowd, but what they forgot was that Miles whole career since the forties was always about change, and taking chances. Modern man has long looked at outer space as the final frontier in exploration, for Miles Davis and his jazz rock followers – the fusion era will be regarded as his last great musical journey.

Where Did All the Fusion Boys Go?

Herbie Hancock: 69 years old with numerous Grammies under his belt. Still experimenting with various styles of music; last release was a collection of Joni Mitchell songs.
Wayne Shorter: 76 years old, Weather Report broke up in 1986. Shorter is still highly regarded as a saxophonist and has been playing in a more traditional jazz style for years.
Tony Williams: Died in 1997 at age 51- a tremendous percussionist who is sorely missed.
Joe Zawinul: Died in 2007 at 75 years of age. After Weather Report he continued to lead a jazz/world music fusion style group.
Keith Jarrett: 64 years old, master solo piano improviser who is part of a long running acoustic jazz trio with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock.
Chick Corea: 68 years old, still plays jazz on acoustic and electric keyboards. 2008 saw a Return to Forever reunion tour that was highly regarded.
John McLaughlin: 67 years old, after the original Mahavishnu Orchestra disbanded in 1976 he concentrated on his Indian/classical group Shakti. Now plays in a variety of jazz styles.
Miles Davis: Died September 28, 1991 at age 65. Legendary trumpeter who has played and been a major innovator in a variety of styles; Be – bop, Cool jazz, Hard bop, Third stream (with Gil Evans) and Fusion. His 1959 record Kind of Blue is arguably still the greatest jazz record of all time.

Recommended Listening
Weather Report – Mysterious Traveler
Mahavishnu Orchestra – Visions of the Emerald Beyond
Return to Forever – Where Have I Known You Before
Billy Cobham – Spectrum
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew, Big Fun, Get up With It, Pangaea

Jim Webb
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