An all-too-rare sound filled the intimately lit space inside Timba the Monday before last, as saxophonist David Liebman and percussionist Abbey Radar reached down deep inside themselves and pulled forth some truly beautiful moments. It wasn't always easy listening, as Liebman's body appeared to zig (often at an angle that seemed to portend a backflip off the stage) in proportion to his sax's full-throttle, squealing zags. But then "working" the crowd, the modus operandi for most nights out in Miami, had little to do with the evening's fare. Instead self-expression was the thing, with the presence of a roomful of onlookers almost an afterthought. That only added to the evening's air of specialness, as borne out by the audience who sat in rapt attention throughout (including one devout fan who made a point of tut-tutting as a prone Kulchur field-tested a pillow-strewn couch). Whether you term the jazz of Liebman and Radar free, avant-garde, or simply (as Liebman himself prefers) creative music, it's in painfully short supply 'round these parts.

The evening's curator Steve Malagodi (local gadfly and on-air host for the past twelve years of The Modern School of Modern Jazz and Moreon WLRN-FM, 91.3, Saturdays at midnight) is thankfully readying plans to make the Timba gig a monthly happening. Malagodi cites the evaporation of state arts funding as a major obstacle, but hopes coordination with like-minded promoters in Orlando and St. Petersburg can ease the financial burden of such events; an appearance by Chicago sax heavyweight Ken Vandermark's current trio is -- cross your fingers, kids -- on deck.

Still, pushing the jazz envelope in Miami isn't going to be easy. While Don Wilner has done an excellent job in turning the Van Dyke Café into a cozy home for straight-ahead players (and the recent openings of Champagne's and the Rhythm Room also augur well for musicians in this vein), the vibrant world of avant-garde jazz is almost nonexistent. It's not that the artists aren't here: Abbey Radar lives in South Florida, as does the wonderfully inventive saxophonist Keshavan Maslak, a.k.a. Kenny Millions, yet both perform in Europe with far more regularity than they do in their own back yard. Loft-jazz titan Sam Rivers also remains unheard here, though he resides only a car ride away in Orlando. The pioneering drummer Milford Graves (feted by everyone from rock guitar stranglers Sonic Youth to experimentalist John Zorn in his native New York) spent the past year in residence as a visiting professor at Miami-Dade Community College with only one public performance to show for it.

"The music scene in Miami has always been based around tourism," Malagodi explains with a sigh. "Even in its heyday, when the best jazz artists in the world were playing in Overtown, they were there because they were coming across from the Beach, where they couldn't stay [because of segregation] after playing at the Fontainebleau. It was a tourist situation even then. That's not really conducive to developing a music of this sort. It takes a situation where artists can work for a long time without the pressures of club owners and the pressures of having to produce" -- here Malagodi adds a special note of bile to his voice -- "entertainment."

Despite the uphill road ahead of him, Malagodi remains buoyed by the positive reactions from several young music students who approached him after the Timba show, ecstatic over what they heard. "That's what it's all about," he says, "when people hear something that connects with them and resonates inside, when they hear what the artist was doing and it opens up a new door for them." He pauses, then adds, "To me that's what art is all about."

The mystery owner of the ubiquitous cherry-red 1969 Cadillac DeVille on South Beach of late, has been outed. Thanks to a profile in the current issue of British music mag the Wire, said driver turns out to be ex-Stooge Iggy Pop, who apparently finds the dark alleys off Washington Avenue a bit less mean than his traditional East Village haunts. While the Wire piece essentially trods the same now-familiar biographical territory (and doesn't hold a candle to Iggy's recent tell-all VH1 portrait, which set a record for consecutive he's-in-he's-out rehab visits), there are some choice bon mots. Renowned as much for his onstage bloody self-mutilation and creative use of peanut butter, as for his proto-punk caterwauling, the Igster now sings a different tune. "At this point I'm interested in standards and what is popularly called crooning," he says. "I have some Danish blood, and it may be a Hamlet thing coming out." Accordingly listeners may want to revisit Pop's 1969 classic "I Wanna Be Your Dog." A misunderstood Pop sets the record straight: "It's a sweet little song really ... about going to sleep in someone's lap." Clearly it's time for a fresh take as well on vintage Pop nuggets such as "Open Up and Bleed" and "Cock in My Pocket."

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail [email protected]