Album Review #11: Palo Congo by Sabu (1957)


One of the things that I love about list projects like this one is that they really expand your horizons and make you listen to music that you normally wouldn’t. Palo Congo by Sabu is one such album. I’ll admit, I was pretty much completely unfamiliar with the genre of Latin music, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this album. It sure was a pleasant surprise, though. This album is energetic, catchy, and exciting, with borderline perfect percussion throughout. With five different musicians credited for the album’s conga drums, it’s definitely safe to say that the drums are the centerpiece of the entire record. They’re so good at it that they managed to make an entirely instrumental song featuring nothing but drums an engaging and exhilarating experience. The guitars are great too, and while they only show up on half of the album’s tracks, they still manage to make the most out of the play time they have with their memorable, if repetitive melodies.

The album starts off strong with “El Cumbanchero,” with catchy vocals and guitar, before dropping the guitar for a ridiculously exuberant call-and-response chant in “Billumba-Palo Congo.” In my opinion, one of this album’s strongest points is its ability to carry a song on as little as vocals, conga drums and bongos. The performers are just so talented that they simply require no more. “Simba” is a definite highlight, with a great vocal performance and the usual incredible drum section. “Rhapsodia del Maravilloso” is a mesmerizing improvised jam with guitar and drums that doesn’t overstay its welcome for one second, while “Aggo Elegua” is another chanting song that, while not as good as “Billumba-Palo Congo,” is still a very enjoyable listen. I think the sole track that left me underwhelmed was “Tribilin Cantore,” the album’s closing song. It just doesn’t maintain the energy that the rest of the album has in surplus, and simply feels somewhat lethargic.

Sabu’s Palo Congo is, simply put, a must-listen. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the genre, give it a chance; I was a complete outsider to Latin music myself, and I absolutely loved it. So give it a listen! You might just enjoy it.

Favorite Tracks: “Billumba-Palo Congo,” “Rhapsodia del Maravilloso,” “Simba”

Least Favorite Track: “Tribilin Cantore”

Next Up: Birth of the Cool by Miles Davis (1957)

Album Review #10: Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk (1957)


I didn’t enjoy The Atomic Mr. Basie very much, so what a surprise it was that directly following it on the list was Brilliant Corners: simply put, the best jazz album I’ve heard in this book so far. It was one of Thelonious Monk’s first major successes as a jazz musician, and for good reason; it’s incredibly engaging, creative, and well-performed, and just a great listen start to finish.

The title track that opens the album is, in my opinion, the strongest track of the album. It’s intro, in particular, is one of the best openings to a song that I’ve ever heard, and certainly leaves a lasting impression. It switches back and forth between different tempos at a moments notice, and is a little hard to keep up with at times, but still manages to be one of my favorite jazz tracks in the book so far. Fun fact: the track was so difficult to play that they never got a complete perfect take, and they ended up having to stitch together different recordings in post. Another great track is “Pannonica,” a seriously heavenly sounding, almost lullaby-like song that made me feel like I was melting into my chair with relaxation. If there’s any track I didn’t like as much, I would say probably “I Surrender, Dear,” a solo piano piece, but not because it’s in any way bad, just because it’s unfortunate enough to be on the same album as the other four jazz masterpieces.

So this album was most definitely a pleasant surprise. Thelonious Monk’s jazz prowess is truly unparalleled, and must be witnessed to be understood. Anyone with even a minor interest in jazz should give this album a listen.

Favorite Tracks: “Brilliant Corners,” “Pannonica”

Least Favorite Track: “I Surrender, Dear”

Next Up: Palo Congo by Sabu (1957)

Album Review #9: The Atomic Mr. Basie by Count Basie (1957)


Welp, I’m back! Sorry about the unannounced hiatus, I’ll be trying to keep up a more frequent upload schedule going forward.

Anyways, we return with The Atomic Mr. Basie. My opinions on this album are a little mixed: I enjoyed many of the tracks, but in the end it just didn’t leave much of an impression on me. None of the tracks were “bad,” per se, but a lot of it just seemed forgettable to me. It’s no Ellington at Newport, but it still had its highlights.

“The Kid From Red Bank” starts the album off on a high note with its explosively energetic trumpet section and great jazz piano. The following track, “Duet,” is slow, minimal and relaxing, with great bass playing and a calm atmosphere. More highlights include “Double-O” and “Teddy the Toad,” the former upbeat and cheerful, and the latter quiet with brief loud trumpet sections. My favorite track is “Lil’ Darlin’,” a quiet, sweet and subtle closing track featuring very good saxophone and bass.

The album has several good tracks, but overall, despite these, I still came away from it underwhelmed. Quite a few of the tracks just sound too similar for them to stick out, and the album as a whole just came off as kind of forgettable. So while I did enjoy it somewhat, I don’t strongly recommend this album.

What do you think of this album? I would love to hear your opinions and feedback!

Next Up: Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk (1957)