Almost everyone knows what a pendulum does — it swings. But here we have a Pendulum that swings only sometimes, never intemperately and always on its own terms. Make no mistake; Pendulum (formerly known as the Berkshire Youth Jazz Orchestra) knows how to swing, but does so too infrequently for some tastes even though director Patrick Kelly has called on some of Great Britain’s leading Jazz heavweights to lend a hand on the ensemble’s debut recording. Of the eleven selections on this two–disc set, perhaps four would heat a medium–sized concert hall, and none would do so consistently. These are what I’d call tone poems, tasteful and quite well performed, but with an energy level that seldom reaches the boiling point. Before proceeding I should state unequivocally that I have nothing against lovely music, especially when it’s so splendidly submitted. On the other hand, as a reviewer I must report what I hear, and the fact is that neither Pendulum nor its guests is in a smokin’ frame of mind — with the possible exception of Don Weller who composed the bouncy “Twister.” There are, it should be noted, some stormy passages in Kenny Wheeler’s “Spring’s Eternal,” alternate takes of which open Disc 1 and close Disc 2; Ben Castle’s “Byjology,” Peter King’s “Dizzy Heights,” Steve Waterman’s “Joby,” Gerard Presencer’s “PROB,” Julian Argüelles’ “Fortunes Fall” and Andy Crowdy’s “Every Answer.” But one must be forbearing enough to seek them out. Clark Tracey’s funky “Yakkin’ at the Club” is as nourishing as anything on the menu, with workmanlike solos by alto Simon Allen, trumpeter Waterman and guitarist Adam Goldsmith, but Tina May’s lyrics and vocal are less than hypnotic. Completing the program is pianist Nikki Iles’ ballad, “The Goodmorrow.” Wheeler’s twice–heard tale of the solstice arrives softly on the wings of Peter Billington’s solo piano. The entrance of the rhythm section and full ensemble signals a change in temperament as the spring season gives rise to warmblooded solos by Wheeler (flugel) and tenor Stan Sulzmann. “The Goodmorrow,” inspired by John Donne’s poem of that name, has poetry in its graceful lines and lyrical solos by Iles and tenor saxophonist Argüelles. “Byology” gets off to a wobbly start with Castle (tenor) and Waterman (flugel) sparring half–heartedly before settling into an easygoing groove in which they are able to perform more productively, while “Dizzy Heights” bows toward the late Dizzy Gillespie’s fondness for Latin rhythms but with only a fraction of his resourcefulness or instensity. Presencer (trumpet) solos admirably, with earnest comments from composer King (alto), Billington and Goldsmith. Disc 2 opens auspiciously with Weller’s loose–limbed “Twister” whose soloists are Goldsmith, bassist Crowdy, alto saxophonist Allen and the composer on tenor. “Joby” has a lovely melody, swinging midsection and enterprising solos by composer Waterman (flugel), Goldsmith and Weller; “PROB” is a brisk polyrhythmic exercise on which Presencer and Castle make forceful statements, and Presencer and Argüelles share the honors on “Fortunes Fall” whose absorbing theme is introduced by Waterman’s flugel and Iles’ piano. Another flugel, Ian Webber, and Castle’s bass clarinet state the melody on Crowdy’s “Every Answer” before the tempo quickens for solos by Webber, Crowdy, Billington (viola), Castle, pianist Graeme Taylor and trombonist Bob Dowell. While the Pendulum in question may not swing as wildly as some would prefer, there’s no gainsaying the band’s singular proficiency, nor Kelly’s willingness to underwrite compositions that challenge not only his musicians but their audience as well.
Track listing: Disc 1 — Spring’s Eternal; The Goodmorrow; Yakkin’ at the Club; Byjology; Dizzy Heights (57:47). Disc 2 — Twister; Joby; Prob; Fortunes Fall; Every Answer; Spring’s Eternal (63:34).