A collection of recent New Yorker columns, Balliett's jazz talk is sensitive and fresh in a way that is to record-liner notes as caviar is to corn relish. You may think jazz can't be written about, but Balliett is the exception. Witness his absorption of the person and idiom of guitarist Charlie Christian ("". . . a child in adult's clothing. . . his face, lean and flat and tight, is startlingly old"") who died at 22 after lending new genius to Goodman's combos. Or his witty flash on an inept big band conductor who ""looked like a burglar emptying drawers."" On the death of Mahalia Jackson: ""But more than Mahalia Jackson is gone, for she was the only mirror--in person and voice--that we had of her childhood idol, Bessie Smith. Their whole giant, soaring, secret black world is gone, too."" His two finest essays are an extended, close-grained elegy for Duke Ellington, in which the Duke rises to the eye (and ear) with the immediacy of one of his tailored technicolor ensembles, and an astute review of Charlie Parker's career ("". . . a closed, secret, stormy, misshapen creature who continually barricaded himself behind the put-on""). Real class, as finely tuned as a Steinway, without a throwaway syllable or a breath of puffery.