Composer / arranger / pianist Dan Cavanagh's inaugural CD, Pulse, begins and ends on an explicit high note. It is what lies between those bookends that gives one pause. There are moments of emergent promise leading to others that are, not to put too fine a point on it, less than inspiring. Of course, that is a purely subjective appraisal, as one man's trash may well be another's treasure. And no matter how one perceives the music, Cavanagh must be given due credit for expressing his distinctive point of view.
Still and all, it no doubt takes a certain kind of listener to embrace warmly the album's "centerpiece," the three-movement "Mississippi Ecstasy," on which the ensemble plays a largely subordinate role to Timothy Young's poetic description of a two-part journey that began in 2006 and spanned the entire range of the Mississippi River. The same could be said for "Black Rattle," which evinces some passion but only after more than three and one-half minutes of indifferent foreplay. "Pulse," "Tunnel Vision," "North South" and "A Time of Reckoning" fare appreciably better, thanks to Cavanagh's more accessible charts and creditable solos by vibraphonist Dave Hagedorn ("Pulse"), trumpeter Ken Edwards and trombonist Steve Wiest ("Vision"), soprano Steve Owen ("North South"), Cavanagh and Hagedorn ("Reckoning"). Soprano Randy Hamm and flugel Scott Harrell warrant one's praise on the enticing opener, "Having Built in Deeper Water."
In sum, Pulse is what we in the States would call a mixed bag, the British a curate's egg. While it certainly has its engaging moments, they are counterbalanced by others that, to these ears at least, are less than captivating. In other words, it's not for everyone. It should be kept in mind, however, that this commentary is written by someone who believes that when it comes to big-band jazz, a little poetry goes a long way. Others are free to disagree, and indeed may find Pulse quite pleasurable from beginning to end.