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CHARLES EARLAND began his infatuation with the Hammond B-3 organ in the early '60s when he was playing saxophone for jazzman Jimmy McGriff, sneaking up to play the instrument during intermissions. "To me," he says, "the B-3 was the first synthesizer."

Earland's no slouch on synthesizer, either, that being his keyboard of choice through most of the '80s. A master of melodic line and the walking bass, he joins tenor saxophonist John (Spider) Martin, drummer Daryl (Pookie) Martin and guitarist Greg Millar in the Blue Note, 1677 Main St., for three sets starting at 10:30 p.m. Earland returns with the same lineup at the same time Saturday night.

THE THIRDS, having reclaimed singer and bassist Jim Brucato from Boston's Berklee School of Music, have decided to put him to work. Lately a one-night-a-week band (Thursdays in Nietzsche's), they've stepped up their schedule to include a date in the Cafe Casablanca, 511 Rhode Island St., at 11 p.m., followed by a show Saturday at 11 p.m. in the Central Park Grill, 2519 Main St., and another next Friday at 11 p.m. in the Scotch & Sirloin, 3999 Maple Road, Amherst.

MICHEL WEBER offers a full-fledged retrospective of her songwriting in two sets in the Cabaret, 255 Franklin St., starting about 11 p.m. The first half will be acoustic and feature her earlier work. For the current material later on, she'll go electric.

WILLIE & THE REINHARDTS is the name for that recenty nameless blues trio of guitarist Willie Haddath, bassist Tom Reinhardt and drummer Ted Reinhardt. Haddath hails from the Black Cat Band, while the brothers Reinhardt are Gamalon's rhythm section. They venture out again at 11 p.m. in the Blarney Stone, 86 Ledger St.

RICK STRAUSS, the jazz fusion guitarist with two albums to his credit, teams up with keyboardist Bobby Jones, bassist Bill Staebell and vocalist Randi Konikoff to play the Calumet Arts Cafe, 56 W. Chippewa St. at Franklin, at 9:30 p.m.
THE CONTINENTAL, 212 Franklin St., goes unplugged for its 15th annual Christmas party at 11:30 p.m. On hand will be 10 acts, some with assumed names, all of whom have promised to learn one or more holiday songs for the affair.

The lineup includes the Leech Bed Quartet, otherwise known as the Pluto Gang; Consorting Angels, Smirking Judas (Joe Pinhead and company), Acoustadt (acoustic Nullstadt), My Evil Twin (Michel Weber with Lynn Rogers), the Quakes, the Fibs, Jamie Moses and friends, Karma Sutra and Mark Freeland.

THE WILD KNIGHTS give their final tribute to the Grateful Dead at 10 p.m. in the Marquee at the Tralf, Theater Place downtown. This will be their last performance.

NEUTRAL ZONE, the trio of guitarist Jim Greene, bassist Peter Partell and drummer Jeff Dennison, covers progressive rock songs that other bands don't usually play, throwing in a few numbers by the Who, the Police and themselves for good measure. They make their first appearance in the Essex Street Pub, 530 Rhode Island St., at 11 p.m.
SONNY RHODES, the Texas blues guitarist who came for Thanksgiving at the Blue Note, returns for Christmas. His band starts to play around 10:30 p.m.

UNION TRANSFER ends 8 1/2 years as a band by running through their repertoire of '50s and '60s songs two more times. The first comes at 9:30 p.m. in the Golden Nugget, 2464 Seneca St., West Seneca. The second is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. New Year's Eve at Seneca Hose Fire Hall, 2801 Seneca St., West Seneca, for which they'll try to round up all the original players for a grand finale.
ROCKET 88 is host band for the sixth annual Bona Vista Reunion at 9 p.m. in the Cafe Casablanca, a show which also will mark guitarist and singer Phil Dillon's first date with the group. Singer Billy McEwen will add his bluesy growl to the proceedings.

Expect a few expatriate Buffalo musicians home for the holidays to show up as well, among them a pair of Bona Vista regulars who haven't performed here in more than 10 years -- the duo of Deborah Ash and Mike Campagna.
DUOS TWO is an extravaganza of Buffalo talent in pairs, brought together in one place by the Buffalo-Greenwich Village Song Project. Scheduled to hit the stage in the Marquee at the Tralf beginning around 9 p.m. are John Lombardo & Mary Ramsey, the Jazzabels, Crossroads, Mr. Conrad & Joe Mancuso, Populuxe, Gary Lee & Patti Meyer, Michael Meldrum & Jim Capik, Vatican II and Jack Frisicaro & Pam Taylor.

BLUE CHRISTMAS will prevail in the Lafayette Tap Room, 391 Washington St., beginning at 10:30 p.m., courtesy of three leading local blues acts -- the Excellos, Shakin' Smith and Billy McEwen.

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