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Tony Galla and Gary Mallaber, formerly of Raven, returned home for a concert late Friday night at the Tralf. Into the Now played Grateful Dead music in a late Friday gig at Nietzsche's. Magic Slim and the Teardrops played the blues in a late Friday show at the Lafayette Tap Room. Violinist Stefan Milenkovich filled in as soloist at the opening of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society's series Sunday at Kleinhans Music Hall's Mary Seaton Room.

Tralfamadore Cafe:
Tony Galla
and Gary Mallaber
On Friday and Saturday, Buffalo-born Tony Galla, Gary Mallaber, Ernie Corallo and Bobby Militello -- with a little help from Bruce Atkinson and Mark LeVang -- packed the Tralf with friends, relatives and the cream of Buffalo musicians for a night of memorable, magical and magnificent blues.

Galla was in superb voice, evoking the spirit of master blues singers from New Orleans' Johnny Adams to B.B. King.

Mallaber's drumming was indomitable. He's the Rock of Gibraltar that sparks pop legends such as Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Steve Miller.

Bobby Militello practically blew the pads off his alto as he walked the walk, talked the talk and proved why a recent tour of England found critics raving about his playing.

Ernie Corallo is one of those slinky guitar players so facile on his instrument that he drops musical pearls as easily as rain falls on an April morning.

The rhythm section, with Atkinson's bass playing and Le-Vang's keyboard grace following the snap, crackle and pop of Mallaber's drums, was the epitome of intuitive support.

There's no overpraising Galla's voice; it has range, tone and sincerity. Despite masterly playing, it was the emotional depth of the music that set the tone.

"The Blues Would Step Right In" was an autobiographical blues that described Galla's journey from singing gospel songs with his family through his days with Buffalo's Raven to his success in Los Angeles.

But it was "She's My Angel of Mercy," filled with gospel intensity and a long jam on Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle," that raised the bar of musicianship beyond Olympian heights. It even included one of Mallaber's rare drum solos -- a barn-burning exercise in technique and taste. It was a night of unparalleled brilliance.

-- Jim Santella

Lafayette Tap Room:
Magic Slim
Magic Slim came to Buffalo on Friday night, but his trademark passion and intensity stayed home. Slim, playing with his band the Teardrops, performed to a packed Lafayette Tap Room, but the audience wondered what the fuss was all about.

The band is coming off the release of its latest album, "Black Tornado," and has been acclaimed as the "last real Chicago blues band." On this night, they were outshined by the "Queen Bee," who opened for the Teardrops.

The "Queen Bee," Tonya Brown, accompanied by her band the Blue Hornets, displayed great vocal range through a two-hour set. The band struggled at times, but Brown made up for it.

The Hornets jammed a '50s-style groove before Brown approached the stage. She sang with the passion and flair of a big star, grooving from low, sultry vocals to over-the-top power.

She proved to be a tough act to follow, as the Teardrops came out flat. They played Southern-style blues, before Slim took the stage. The audience saw glimpses of the raw sound that Slim is known for, but those moments were few.

There is no doubt that Magic Slim and the Teardrops are a great blues band. However, a solid reputation doesn't always translate into a great performance. The show lacked energy and soul, proving that great bands sometimes "go through the motions."

Tonya Brown, however, carried the night on her strong voice. The Hornets had the crowd involved, losing the connection only when Brown stopped singing.

Brown stopped to dry her face, gazing into the colored stage lights. For a moment, she was on top of the world. The "Queen Bee" was buzzing, forgetting that her big-time talent performs in a small-time band.

-- Jeremy Nickerson

Into the Now
A struggling band with seven members has two options: Knock elbows on the small venue stages on which it plays, or have fun.

The Rochester band Into the Now takes the fun route. Before a show Friday in Nietzsche's, the Grateful Dead/Bob Dylan-sounding band joked and then joked some more about its current small-town band situation.

As for newest member Steve McNally, a burly, bearded character who visually would fit better behind the handlebars of a Harley-Davidson than behind the keys of his Hammond B-3: "We had to let him join the band; he owns a recording studio, and we owed him money."

As for the band's need to showcase its debut release to Dead-loving college crowds: "Maybe we should offer free girls and free draft beer."

And as for its ability to play seven-piece counterpoint: "It's kind of like jazz. We give each other room, but then we step all over each other."

But when it came down to playing the music, the veteran players were dead serious. Drummers Chris Bensley and Don Howcroft, who both used a full set, played on each other's counterbeat, and only rarely succumbed to parallel hits. Guitarist Tom Mahoney led Dead covers with his Bob Weir-sounding vocals, and guitarist Dan Monaghan used his looks, vocal style and harmonica prowess to impersonate Dylan.

The essence of the band, however, was not in the popular tunes or never-ending percussive beat but rather in the jams. Song verses were kept to a minimum and served only as introductions to the instrumental fillers.

Highlighting the jams was McNally, who used full-handed slaps and organ key sweeps to bring excitement to an instrument too often used only for accompaniment. McNally's lines were accentuated by his impassioned body moves, as well as by the countering chords of digital piano player Marc Check. Adding stability to the texture was bassist Ron Permoda.

Local band Scrubb Yones opened the show. The quartet mixed such varied covers as "The Thrill Is Gone" and the Dead's "Shakedown Street" with original tunes.

-- Michele Ramstetter

Kleinhans Music Hall:
Stefan Malenkovich
Violinist Stefan Malenkovich replaced injured cellist Jan-Erik Gustafsson as soloist on the opening concert of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society's free "Gift to the Community" series for a small but enthusiastic crowd Sunday afternoon in the Mary Seaton Room.

With pianist Shai Wosner, he played the Chaconne attributed to Vitali (1663-1745) but almost certainly elaborated by a much later hand. They produced a big, boldly brushed performance with rich, full-throated statements poised against quieter, more intimate responses, in a non-showy but highly musical view of the work.

In Ravel's Violin Sonata, the first movement was played with an idiomatic, defining rhythmic bite, fine control of rapid tremolo passages and a magical ascent at the close to a wonderful region of repose. The "blues" movement was hampered by pizzicato playing first timid then rigid, but the slurred blues motifs were genuinely felt, and the building momentum of the non-stop finale was infectious.

But it was in Mozart's Sonata in B flat, K 378, that Malenkovich and Wosner made their best impression. The playing was deft and clean, with highly fluid phrasing and a natural flow from idea to idea. The slow movement was a very poised and measured statement in an extremely sensitive collaboration, while the final rondo radiated an unforced simplicity of line that's far more difficult than it sounds. The artists' commonality of approach and "rightness" of sound is a rare thing.

Paganini's rarely heard "I Palpiti" was the big showpiece, a simple, sweet Rossini theme adorned with complex filigree and variations that displayed everything from glistening upper-register harmonics to virtuoso passages intermixing bowed and pizzicato notes at a frightful velocity, but all done with ease and accuracy.

The standing uproar brought a touching, poignant postscript -- the Gluck-Kreisler "Melodie."

-- Herman Trotter

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