Trenton Makes the World Takes. That was what the city was all about, back when. The halfway stop between the City of Brotherly Love and The City That Never Sleeps, back in its heyday, Trenton was happening.

But like many of the smaller industrial cities in this country, it began to perish as suburban movement swept the nation. When the work moved out, a once bustling marketplace of life was turned into a perilous environment wrought with desolation, poverty, and struggle, a cloud which still hovers over the city to this day. For six days a week behind two inches of bullet proof glass, I bore witness to life in Trenchtown.

In that summer of 2001, I earned my income at Pawn USA, a check cashing agency and pawn shop in downtown Trenton. I met all kinds of folks working behind the glass as I cashed their checks, helped them get their bills paid and lent some money out to those with something to trade. (Now with trade we're talking television and stereo equipment and jewelry mainly, anything gold would get you some cash. One time this cat dropped his gold fronts through the drawer. I saw some things). I found out real quick how dirty money really is, but those days taught me there were many other lessons to be learned.

Don't Turn Your Back
Being exposed to this pain everyday began to get to me after a while and I became frustrated with my situation in all of this. What was this job? Am I part of just another business looking to cash in on poor and disparaging souls? What am I doing here? These discouraging thoughts rang true for a while but as my tenure behind the glass continued, I began to notice things. Maybe it was because I was surrounded by so much depression that every bright life spot began to jump out at me. I noticed many of the same faces coming in all the time, talking it up, asking about families and who was doing what. The Trenton community was out, there was some life left in this town. Life and survival were happening here.

There were women who had enrolled their children in classes at Princeton University's elementary education program for the summer. They always talked about giving their children the life chances they never had. They wanted their children to have a better place so maybe they could come back home one day and make things better.

This is when I began to realize that what I was doing was helping. Helping members of this community facilitate these changes by giving them opportunities, albeit financial ones. But most of these people do not have bank accounts or collateral to get one. They are renters, not owners in need every cent they work so very hard for. It is about surviving on what they sowed for themselves everyday, an idea often forgotten. Behind the glass I learned what this really meant and was able to take part in providing people
with an opportunity. That was what I was doing there.

Give this Love a try
Not at all far from my old stomping grounds at Pawn USA, folks at the Conduit and Joe's Mill Hill Saloon are cooking up some "scenery" in the old-style Trenton fashion. Showcasing a myriad of nationally touring acts as well as acting as fertile ground for many local acts to cut their teeth and gain a solid, supportive fan base.

Sex Mob

Holding it down for the roots cause in Trenchtown, Mike Polans is giving many bands the chance to kick it for a burgeoning community of music freaks that have been coming in from the all over Tri-State area to get up and get get down. His weekly Jam Tuesdays throw down at the Conduit has been a hit for sometime now and has featured the funktology of Addison Groove Project, the trancematic vibes of the late Ally, and the intelligent idiosyncrasies of Color and Talea. With a solid foundation in place, Polans has been looking to bring some of the more prominent names in music to his little nest egg in Trenton and has hooked up some hot shows for the future: Sex Mob will be in the house with Calvin Weston's Big Tree for weekly the Jam Tuesday on November 19th and the rub-a-dub styles of the Wailers hits on November 28th. And this is just the beginning. Talking with Mike, I get the feeling that he's got some big things planned in the upcoming months at the Conduit so keep your head up.

Hit me with music
Your more recognizable names may bring some flair, but the true heart of the Trenton scene lies within the bands at its center. Bands like Grandfather Ridiculous, Caveman, and Electric Jellyfish are keeping Trenton heads bobbing, hips shaking and the vibe alive, each doing it with their own eccentricities and flair making them unique and important to what is happening there. All of these cats are some serious players who have done their homework and have linked up with some of the greats during their quests for musical expression. With Polans acting as the brains behind the operation, things are getting hot in Trenchtown as the Conduit and its lesser known street mate, Joe's Mill Hill Saloon, are the becoming the boom spots, mixing in all types of flavor for your listening pleasures.

Dropping some of that smooth flowing hip-hop essence (ala Digable Planets) to the jazz infused side of drum n bass, Grandfather Ridiculous maintains superb minimalist instrumentalism while remaining unafraid to take things out. Their music holds true to its urban elements while setting tonal escapes from the darker confines of Trenton life. The intelligent rhyme styles of Taylor McFerrin are laced with the percussive undertone mirroring that of his father, the great revolutionary jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin. Holding down the rhythm, bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer Nigel Sifantus work beautifully creating the groundwork for each movement, leaving space for keyboardist Joe Rybczyk Jr. to fill the air with soft landscapes. Each of these cats has been around, playing out and schooling and recording with some class-A players, and it shows as their positive consciousness and stimulating beats have been setting rooms ablaze in the Tri-State.

Seeking further exploration into the primordial and psychedelic, the music of Caveman encompasses a more complex instrumental hybrid of heavy layering and dynamic mood and tempo changes. Each tightly woven composition expresses the originality of the musicians and the multi-dimensional approach they have taken with this band. Tribal infused rhythms, silky dub style and straight out sublime rock fusion is found in exemplary fashion encased in the quartet's 18-track record Before the World. As yet another positive installment to the Trenchtown scene, Caveman is one group that will keep the room's attention, keeping you guessing where one tune will end and next will begin. Another gathering of the well-traveled, Caveman is more tribe than band as each member is an integral piece of the creative village. Guitarist John Lee's iridescent vision is propelling and often peculiar as he is complimented by the strong work of bassist John Buck and keyboardist Brian Marsella. The tight rudimentary foundation laid by drummer Tim Keiper and his assistant, percussionist Matt Brundrett, is the cavern wall where, in words of intrinsic chemistry and transcendental melody, the band paints their tales of journey and discovery for all to read.

On the funkier side of things, Electric Jellyfish has got the jazz straight up. Keeping it danceable and full of nice, these cats fill out the versatility of the Trenton scene. All tight-knit and souled out, the Jellyfish have the groovessentials down pat. Tenor man and flutist Tim Shay just blows the hell out of his horn. Bassist Dan Manchester and drummer Casey Marshall keep live it in the back and on the floor while guitarist/organist Tim Conley adds color. If order the groove, they bring it to your table.

Yes I'm groovin'…I'm groovin'
It is breathing, it is alive. In an environment stricken and lacking, life is born, art is born. All it takes are some believers and it will grow. And then more believers will come and it shall grow some more. This is what the Trenton scene is all about. Life and art are happening on a scale I never thought possible. It is simply extraordinary.

Mike Polans and the members of Caveman and Grandfather Ridiculous and Electric Jellyfish, and every other band and artist that has come or will come to Trenton is participating in a life affirming act. They have built a small but firm community in a place where there was little other than depravation and despair. As the community continues to grow, hopefully the positive will throw ripples into the air, shedding some light into the darkness that shrouds the city of Trenton. And maybe "Trenton Makes the World Takes" will on day hold the meaning it once did, way back when

Robert Krevolin
JamBase | New Jersey
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[Published on: 11/18/02]

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