Thelonious Monk believed a song was only as good as its bridge: “For the outside to sound good, you’ve got to make the inside sound good,” he once explained, according to Steve Lacy. Joel Forrester, fondly remembered as the pianist with the Microscopic Septet, a cult band of the 1980s with two Johns and no Pauls, evidently takes Monk to heart—”Mother’s Day,” one of many lively compositions on Ever Wonder Why, the third CD by Forrester’s quartet, People Like Us, has a chuckling 26-bar bridge that won’t quit. Might as well clear the air: Forrester wrote the theme for my wife’s radio show, and his producer, Donald Elfman, is an old friend. But my enthusiasm for Forrester goes back to the Micros, before he knew Elfman or my wife. In their day, the Micros achieved such a happy group identity you had a tough time figuring out which tunes were Forrester’s and which were Phillip Johnston’s. Ever Wonder Why makes it simple: Johnston, whose recent Captain Beefheart CD is still high on my playlist, brought the circus and the minimalism while Forrester brought the angled bop and the Monk. Although Claire Daly attacks Forrester’s tunes with contagious zest, playing baritone where you half expect to hear Charlie Rouse’s tenor, the most engaging track is “Serenade,” where she lays out, leaving Forrester free to bounce stride rhythms and abstracted boogie-woogie figures off David Hofstra’s bass and Ronnie Williams’s drums—he has plenty of Monk in him, but a lot going on himself. The program ends with a brief, sentimental choir piece about September 11 that you’d be doing Forrester a favor to skip.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 15, 2005