The young pianist Adrien Brandeis has taken an extraordinarily challenging step on Meetings, which is just his second recording as leader. He has chosen to engage with three master rhythmists of Afro-Cuban music – bassist Damián Nueva and percussionists Inor Sotolongo and Orlando Poleo – and fortified by the French drummer Arnaud Dolmen, of course; with all of which to set the bar of this encounter even higher by challenging himself to write all the music for this encounter. Such a feat of derring do usually comes much later in a musician’s career; when he [or she] has travelled a lot further down the road of creative practice. The twists and turns of Afro-Cuban rhythms is not, after all, merely a matter of mastery of clave, which it is itself a daunting task.
It is much more than that: for instance, one must be possessed of the understanding of tumbao and then mastery of that ability to impart it to one’s pianism. The answer, then, as to whether Mr Brandeis has succeeded in making music worth putting down on record so early in his career is, by all measures of music, a resounding success. This is a superb album, with music written as if by a tenured member of the tribe of Afro-Cuban musicians, so to speak. Mr Brandeis is French, of course. But on this music he has happily – and quite remarkably – “gone native”. His pianism is so subsumed by his gift for tumbao that this music may as well have been written by someone who is not French, but Cuban instead.
This music reflects many aspects of Mr Brandeis’ gift for composition. The writing is gloriously idiomatic. He has, throughout, resisted the temptation to dapple his melodies with stylistic gestures and devices so common in writing by someone with a lesser gift for composition. There is no attempt to be consciously “clever”. However, there are plenty of hidden treasures in this music that suggest that Mr Brandeis knows his way around the tricks of harmony and rhythm. The beautifully cinematic “Elixir” is one example which also captures Mr Brandeis navigating his way very delicately around the formidable form of the bolero rather well.
Then there is “Cha-Cha Paris”, which is simply superb. The best aspect of this song is the manner in which Mr Brandeis has harmonically and rhythmically inverted his phrases right from the outset of the song. Here – as everywhere else on the recording – melody, harmony and rhythm are in balance to a remarkable degree. Composition, improvisation, exploration, and especially individuality have been pressed into service with impressive respect for tradition. These are rare and wonderful qualities to encounter in a recording by someone relatively young. And all of this bodes very well for this man’s future as a musician indeed.
Track list – 1: Mantodea; 2: Prelude To Agonda; 3: Agonda; 4: Chick’s Garden; 5: Suave; 6: Never Know; 7: Not Ready; 8: Elixir; 9: Cha-Cha Paris; 10: Textures
Personnel – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Damien Nueva: contrabasse; Arnaud Dolmen: drums; Inor Sotolongo: percussion; Orlando Poleo: percussion 
Released – 2020
Label – Jazz Family [ABM002]
Runtime – 48:53