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ESG - Keep on Moving

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Artist: ESG

Album: Keep on Moving

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Jun. 26, 2006

Keep On Moving, the first release in four years by the hard-as-nails soul crew ESG, offers taught electro evidence that conviction and innovation can be found in the most minimal environment. The five South Bronx sisters (they've swapped an original member for the daughters of two others; it's now three aunts and two nieces), whose staunch originality relegated them to the fringes 30 years ago, find themselves on the perimeter still.

Stuck on the edges of genre and geography, ESG presents a lose-lose critical dilemma. If Soul Jazz can boast any listenership outside of po-mo (a stolen term but from where who knows) connoisseurs, it's probably limited to collectors and boutique DJ's out for advanced street credentials. It's a shame such a living museum of sounds modern and past isn't better subscribed, but inclusion of ESG on a specialty label almost automatically suggests they are a curiosity. The grimly sparse instrumentation – rarely more than a doubled vocal track, a Roland 808, and about a $5 worth of reverb – speaks to limited resources as much as it does minimalist genius, which would somehow be sexier if the return address were London or Birmingham, but the South Bronx zip code makes it all sound like a cry for help: 30 years and not a goddamned thing has changed. The unwavering confidence of the Scroggins family raises a big brown middle finger to academic inferences and funks it all hard for 45 minutes. With a tinge of Miami disco bongo in one ear and a whiff of Schooly D cowbell up the nose, ESG makes the case that if this is indeed what musical poverty sounds like, there is beauty in the spaces between.

Lyrically, Keep On Moving finds its inspiration through the eyes and gut, and nearly all interactions, as reported on “Purely Physical” and “Insane,” (both the “tambourine” mix and the “bass” mix,) tell of what is seen and what is desired. Perhaps if the raw poetry therein were to ponder subtleties less central to the senses, twinkly piano flourishes and oatmeal sax would be painted on the eyelashes and lips of the arrangements, but this work speaks of love in the forests and on the beach, not in the nightclub or the hotel. The other-girl threats of violence in “Ex” – “I'm his ex, and if you're clever you'll be on your way” – don't waste a lot of time in consideration of compromise, hope, or even jail time, but instead are couplets to brave imminent judgment and accelerate past niceties in a quantum shortcut, straight to the point. It's plain language, and taken at face value, without attributing intent, it beats the freaking shit out of all the Oberlin overanalysis we tend to get in the quiet part of the movie theater.

Anomalies abound with the cascara-driven rumba of “The Road,” a relentless and razor-sharp drum machine workout with an unidentifiably otherworldly bass grumble. The rigid analog hypno-tition nearly out-ostinatos the Bazombo trance music of critical darlings Konono No. 1, and it's anyone's guess as to whether the mumbling fucks of college radio and indy-reader rock columns will have the judgment to avoid the use of “savage,” “primitive,” and “primal” this time around. ESG's determined homage to African continental spiritual music hangs on the chest like another badge of anti-pretentiousness.

Without being there, perhaps it's impossible to know how many takes are required to produce a track rife with tuning deviations, but it's a safe bet the Scrogginses (or is it Scrogginseses?) have it documented somewhere. For the eight or nine minutes of the album that include a melodious instrument like a piano or guitar (not sure if it's a sample or not, but it sounds a lot like Andy Summers playing through a Roland Jazz Chorus 80), it becomes immediately evident why the remaining 36 or so minutes don't challenge the singer with traditional accompaniment. It's cool, though; the voices of ESG reside in a spirit world somewhere between hip hop and soul, and in fact they might be in the same building as Biz Markie (reference “It's Spring Again”). The same technical tension, through the grand prism of honkey-dom, might induce a discussion of idiot savant crooning and would reference cases like early Palace, Joanna Newsom, and CocoRosie. My money’s on the three aunts and two nieces from the South Bronx not trifling with that shit.

By Andy Freivogel

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