What do you get when you combine the heavy metal bebop lines of Scott Henderson, the inestimable chops of Frank Gambale, the close harmonic voicings of Allan Holdsworth, the occasional rough edges of John McLaughlin and a tinge of Latin affect? Guitarist Claude Pauly, on his debut, Mind Meets Matter, comes close to answering that question, while proving that it’s possible to wear your influences prominently on your sleeve while still moving towards asserting an individual voice.
Focusing on group chemistry rather than a cast of thousands, Pauly has chosen his band mates well: bassist Kai Echkardt and drummer Alan Hertz play together in Garaj Mahal, lending an immediate unity to Mind Meets Matter. The sense of interactive togetherness is further augmented by keyboardist Frank Martin, who has worked with McLaughlin, Richard Bona, and Sting but, based on his work here, deserves greater recognition.
For fusion fans, it doesn’t get much better: Pauly’s writing leans heavily on diverse grooves, sophisticated harmonies, knotty yet surprisingly memorable melodies, and plenty of solo space. With a largely grungy, overdriven tone, he eschews the sonic purity of Holdsworth and goes, instead, for a meatier sound, but his use of whammy bar throughout and the ethereal chords of The Mirror Intro make his allegiance clear, as do the more oblique changes of The Mirror, which closes the album on a foreboding note, blending Middle Eastern tonalities, reverse-attack, and even some dense, sparse slide guitar.
Elsewhere, Pauly demonstrates no shortage of improvisational fire on Moorish Maze, where he solos at length over Eckhardt and Mertz’s fiery funk. Still, when Pauly plays with fierce velocity, as he does on the equally intense Incarnation Highway, he uses visceral, Indo-centric microtonal bends to break up his lengthier lines, giving them greater potency. The arpeggios that drive parts of Incarnation Highway are a clear nod to early Mahavishnu Orchestra, with Hertz’s brief but powerful drum solo recalling Billy Cobham at his most furious. There may be plenty of references to things past, but Pauly uses programming sparingly to give the music a more contemporary edge.
Martin’s solo intro to the Latin-esque Sheep’s Clothes is a brief but rich indicator of his undervalued talent. Pauly may take the majority of the solos on Mind Meets Matter, but it’s Martin’s acute accompaniment that pushes them to occasionally unexpected places. His solos may be rare, but on Sheep’s Clothes, with Pauly on nylon string acoustic guitar, Martin proves capable of weaving strong threads through the guitarist’s changes. The same applies to Eckhardt, a strong anchor throughout but, with a sinuous fretless tone, capable of greater lyricism when he’s given a rare opportunity to come out front.
But at the end of the day, group chemistry aside, this is Pauly’s show. Mind Meets Matter is an impressive debut from a guitarist who, despite his unmistakable influences, shows real potential for rising up and becoming a peer alongside those who clearly make him what he is.