Best Local Jazz Artist

Whatever you do, don't refer to saxophonist Keshavan Maslak as an avant-garde musician. "You know what an avant-garde musician is?" scoffs Maslak. "It's somebody who's starving!" That may be the reason Maslak finally bailed on his adopted home of New York City in 1986 -- despite a résumé of playing that read like a who's who of that city's left-field music scene, jamming with figures ranging from John Zorn and Philip Glass to Rashied Ali and Sam Rivers -- and headed for South Florida. To signify the break, he even adopted a new name (the purposely show-bizesque Kenny Millions). Still, Manhattan's loss is our gain, and you can now easily find Maslak ensconced in the corner of his own pan-Asian restaurant, Hollywood's Sushi Blues Café, happily honking away in a blues mode. For an earful of Maslak's famed outside jazz playing, be prepared to travel: He reserves that facet of his muse primarily for out-of-town gigs and high-profile European festivals. "People come to my restaurant to eat and relax," he wryly explains, not to turn their brains inside out. For that the curious are advised to take a listen to last year's Without Kuryokhin, a live tribute to departed friend and master pianist Sergey Kuryokhin. Recorded in Russia alongside Japanese turntablist Otomo Yoshihide, the album showcases the two musicians bouncing ideas back and forth, trading squealing licks and trilling notes, and ultimately expanding the boundaries of jazz and (better whisper it) avant-garde sonic exploration. It's thrilling stuff: challenging at times, never academic, always engaging. Maybe one day this massive talent will give audiences in his own back yard a little taste.


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