I came across this nice article on the importance of pulse in bringing musicians together as an effective ensemble. I recently played at a rehearsal for an ensemble. I'm sure I won't get a call back as the band (maybe more precisely, the rhythm section) never gelled in such a way as to find a unique and binding pulse. I'm not sure if it was my sight reading or that of the others, a bad vibe between us, or just ne of those days. In the end, it never clicked.
I got me thinking about how an effective rhythm section operates. One of the groups I play with (a trio) has a great pulse. I'm always amazed at how we click when playing together and how we anticipate one anothers' fills and rhythmic changes.
I think one important part of developing a pulse is having one yourself. This is more than just being alive with your instrument. It takes practice. For this, I think a metronome and the ability to sight read rhythms are essential. Myself, I try to spend some time during each practice session sight reading rhythms. One tool I use is rhythmpatterns.com. This site has lots of rhythms that you can just pull up and read. I also like grabbing books of latin music or atonal etudes as each has its own rhythmic perculiarities. Reading this music (or at least the rhythms) not only improvies your sight reading but also your musical knowledge base.
Another important aspect of having your own pulse is using a metronome. Many people I know eschew a metronome when practicing as they feel it will interfere with there sense of "musical flow" or "swinging". I believe that all music requires a pulse and that training yourself to play with a pulse means using a metronome in the background to, at a minimum, remind you of the need for a pulse. Here's a nice article on the use of a metronome. Personally, I think too many peoiple believe that using a metronome means hearing a click on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. These people forget the flexibility of using a metronome: putting the clicks only on beats 2 and 4; putting the click only on beat 1 or beat 4. Using a metronome in a more creative fashion can only improve your musical flow and ability to swing.