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Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of its Second Century by Gary Giddins

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Introducing this latest batch of essays (named after and culled largely from his late, lamented Village Voice column), Gary Giddins cops to being too emotional: “Much as I admire the writing of categorical intellectuals,” writes Giddins, “feeling is the only arbiter I trust…. As a critic, I am chiefly an enthusiast mired in the past and reliant on sensibility.” Giddins has always been a gut-trusting guy. If anything, that tendency became more pronounced in the ’90s and ’00s, when the essays included in this collection were written.

Giddins is best at relating anecdotes that connect him personally to the music (“The first time I really listened to Peggy Lee was accidental…”), and drawing parallels across creative disciplines (“Records approximate Malraux’s museum without walls…”). In terms of analysis, his most cogent criticisms are usually general, not specifically musical (“Some performers, like Chaplin, are not ensemble players-you train the spotlight on them and hope for the best.”).

Unfortunately, Giddins’ faith-based method usually precludes him from staking out a strong aesthetic position and defending it, a practice that I rather like in my arts criticism. Still, when it comes to selling the music he loves, he’s a gifted evangelist. That’s no small thing. Believers, take heed.