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Joel Forrester and People Like Us: Ever Wonder Why

As pianist, composer, bandleader, and perhaps especially as liner-note author, Joel Forrester is a first-rate entertainer and a delightfully deadpan droll man. Some of the tunes on Ever Wonder Why (Ride Symbol) are musical jokes, such as “Bebop Cowpoke,” with its cantering gait and whinnying horses, and “Bunny Boy” (“music for an unproduced cartoon”). More often, the wit derives from the stone-faced aplomb with which Forrester’s quartet, People Like Us, solves the trickeries in his tunes. (In “The Bubble,” for example, the time signature “changes, perversely, every few bars.”)

Claire Daly, who plays that most humorous of saxophones, the baritone, executes her role here with split-second in-character timing. Forrester’s piano work is indefatigably rollicking, highly stylized and flawlessly superficial. Yet this jauntiest, cleverest of jazz albums ends unexpectedly, and movingly, in a simple, sincere gesture. Thirty-four friends of Forrester, many nonmusicians, sing “Prayer for the Living,” a collective stark reminder about a certain morning in September.

Originally Published