The Music Project

On a hot summer night, and I do mean hot, this reporter drove in circles around Trenton’s historic Mill Hill trying to locate the Music Project, a jazz trio performing as part of the free Trenton Concert Summer Series. Even calling beforehand, and knowing that Mill Hill Park edges right up to the Assunpink River that runs through the heart of the city, it was still difficult pinpointing the exact location of the performers.

After asking a local couple for help, I parked the car in an empty parking lot, on an equally empty block , and followed the cool sound of live jazz down a charming footpath that runs along the river and under an old stone and steel-trestle bridge. I discovered a well-hidden outdoor amphitheater nestled right at the edge of the river, and true to its name, directly at the bottom of the hill.

Sitting on the concrete steps built right into that hill, was a small, polite crowd of jazz aficionados, local seniors, young couples, and several antsy teenagers obviously there against their will. Down the steps, the trio had positioned themselves on the stage with the bubbling river behind, framed by the green of the trees and grass on the opposite side. While the amphitheater is a relatively recent addition to the landscape, built about 50 years ago, the stones forming the banks of the river, the bridge supports, and the river itself appear the same, I imagine, as they did back when Washington passed triumphantly through the city.

Listening to the Music Project – led by leader Barry Wilcox, and joined by singer Clarice Sabree, and saxophonist Jessie Andrews, who was sitting in for band regular, John Jackson – was a refreshing way to end a hot, rushed work week. Wilcox, who by day works at the New Jersey Spirit Program, the new computer system for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), says: "We’re small but we make a big sound." And they did, even competing with the muffled sounds of the city and the river’s natural accompaniment.

Wilcox, who moved to Trenton in 1968, came from New Orleans by way of Seattle. His prior group, Straight No Chaser, a seven-piece jazz ensemble, played together three years before parting upon the death of one of the members. Sabree also works for the state in the Department of Community Affairs, while Andrews is reported to work in the publishing industry.

The Music Project performed crowd-pleasers such as the traditional jazz classics "Summertime," "Who Can I Turn To," and "Night & Day," interspersed with popular tunes like "Bye, Bye, Blackbird," "Yesterday," and several instrumental arrangements.

All in all, the music was soothing, as was the cool breeze coming off the river, and the setting about as bucolic as anything you would find in Bucks County, right in the center of Trenton Makes The World Takes. Although the Trenton Concert Summer Series is winding down, the final outdoor concerts include: Wednesday, August 24, Primitive Soul, Pat Pone Park; Friday, August 26, Dennis Rogers, Laurel Avenue Playground; and Sunday, August 28, the Riverside Band, Cadwalader Park. All concerts run from 7 to 9 p.m. If you don’t know Trenton well, call 609-815-2167 beforehand for specific directions to the venues.

For more information on The Music Project, call Barry Wilcox at 609-396-5849. Upcoming appearance:

Friday, August 26, Trenton Marriott, 1 West Lafayette, Trenton,609-421-4000.

Arturo Romay

A glass of wine, low amber lighting, wonderful crusty breads dipped in sumptuous olive oil and seasoning – oh yes, this would be enough to help me unwind at the end of a long week. But listening to Arturo Romay play his enchanting fusion of sensual Latin-Jazz guitar at Mediterra in Princeton, where he plays every Thursday, is the perfect evening of music, mood, and food.

Romay and percussionist Nerio Natheus sit in a corner near the bar, taking up very little physical space, but they impact the mood of the whole restaurant with their soulful and inspiring instrumentals.

The wait staff at Mediterra half-walk and half-dance through the breezeway to pick up drinks at the bar; diners stop by on their way out of the restaurant to offer a word of appreciation to the duo. People at the bar stop their conversations to applaud at the end of each song.

Romay nods his head; sometimes he waves, and then he goes back to playing. His fingers move so quickly on the frets of the guitar, and the sound that he produces is so complex, it’s hard to believe that just one man and a guitar are creating the sound. Each instrumental is beautifully complimented by Natheus’s percussion.

Surrounded by instruments – bongos, a snare drum, cymbals, chimes – Natheus sits on something that looks like a box; he tells me it’s another percussive instrument called a cajon. Each instrument gets thumped, beaten, or brushed lightly to create the perfect accent to Romay’s guitar.

While they play, the two men seem lost in the music. In between songs, Romay may lean over and say something in Spanish to Natheus but there is no between-song patter to the audience; Romay lets the music do the talking. When he plays, his eyes are closed and he coaxes notes out of his guitar that most fledgling guitarists never dream of. (Is it cliche to say that there were moments when it felt like I was watching a man seduce a woman as I watched Romay play? Perhaps it is – but it did.)

Romay says that Pat Metheny, George Benson, and Eddie Van Halen were some of his inspirations but it is hard not to compare Romay with "nuevo flamenco" guitarist Ottmar Liebert or Carlos Santana because all of Romay’s music has that layered Latin feel. And although Romay plays several of his own compositions, many of the recognizable songs he played the evening I heard him at Mediterra were Santana hits – Evil Ways, Oye Como Va, and Corazon Espinado – from the 1999 "Supernatural" CD.

On a few songs, Romay turned on a small tape player, adding a bass and keyboard to the mix. The performers on the tape, he says, are both members of his other band – an eight-piece salsa/Latin swing band, which plays at larger venues and special events. It seems that Romay rarely has a night off. He plays every week at Mediterra and Nova Terra, a New Brunswick restaurant owned by the Momo Group, who also own/operate the luscious Mediterra.

When he is not playing live, Romay is hustling to get a recording contract. He has self-produced two CDs, "Inside of My Heart" and "Jumping for Joy" – the latter co-produced by Luisito Qunitero, a percussionist and musical director who has collaborated with Marc Anthony and Gloria Estefan.

Romay says that he was offered a contract with a boutique Latin record company last year but his lawyer advised him against signing. "I’m talking with Sony," he says. And if the conversations don’t turn into a recording contract, Romay is confident that it’s just a matter of time: "I know it will happen."

Having experienced Romay’s heartfelt music, I suspect he is right. Go catch him at Mediterra or Nova Terra, while he’s still a well-kept secret.

Arturo Romay’s upcoming performances:

Wednesdays, ongoing, 7 to 10 p.m., Nova Terra, 78 Albany Street, New Brunswick. 732-296-1600.

Thursdays, ongoing, 7 to 10 p.m.. Mediterra, 29 Hulfish Street, Princeton. 609-252-9680.

Fridays, 6 to 9 p.m. and Sundays, 5 to 8 p.m., ongoing, La Stalla, 18 Swamp Road, Newtown, Pennsylvania. 215-579-8301.

Auditions

Bridge Players Theater Company seeks actors for "I Hate Christmas" for a December production. Auditions are Sunday, September 11, 2 to 5 p.m., and Monday, September 12, 7 to 9 p.m. at Old Saint Mary’s Church, 105 West Broad Street, Burlington. Visit www.bridgeplayerstheatere.com or call 856-303-7620.

Like 40 Productions seeks actors for "Inspecting Carol," the story of a small theater company’s efforts to put on its annual production of "A Christmas Carol." Auditions are Saturday and Sunday, September 10 and 11, 1 to 4 p.m. Prepare a two-minute comedic monologue and bring a resume and headshot. E-mail tba169@comcast.net or call 609-291-8123 for appointment.

Playful Theater is holding auditions for "A Christmas Carol, The Musical," on September 17, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and September 18, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mercer County College. Prepare a song and bring sheet music. Be prepared for a dance audition. Production opens November 25. This version is the Madison Square Garden version with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lyn Ahrens. Call 215-943-0351 for audition appointment.

Cantabile Chamber Choir seeks singers for several voice parts. The vocal ensemble performs a variety of works including contemporary compositions and culturally diverse programming. Visit www.cantabilechamberchorale.com or call 732-560-7132 for information or audition appointment. Rehearsals are Wednesday evenings in Bound Brook. An upcoming performance is at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Arcadian Chorale seeks new members for its fall program "Magnificent Joy" including Bach’s "Christmas Oratorio." Auditions are September 6 and 13, 6 to 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, in Matawan. Visit www.arcadianchorale.org or call 732-583-4007.

Stars in the Park seek a stage manager for the fall production of "They’re Playing Our Song" opening Friday, October 14. Auditions are Monday, August 22. Write to Diane Wargo at starsinthe park@aol.com.

Roxey Ballet auditions for Roxey Ballet II, Roxey Ballet I, Nutcracker, and Children’s Classic Stories. Visit www.roxeyballet.com and select auditions for audition schedule.

Call for Entries

Panera Bread seeks entries for "Art That’s Good Enough to Eat" for children in grades three to five featuring food-inspired artwork in any format. Qualifying submissions will be displayed at Panera’s during a two-week period in October during which time they will be voted on by customers. One winner at each store receives a $250 award and progresses to the national competition. Deadline is October 15. For information and entry kit E-mail ibien@panera-nj.com or call 609-750-0900.

New Jersey Photography Forum invites photographers to submit photographs for exhibition at the 11th annual juried photography exhibit. Photographers must hand deliver their work to Watchung Arts Center on Saturday, October 29, from 1 to 4 p.m. Each entry, $25. The show will be on display from November 1 to 29 at the center. For information visit www.njphotoforum.com or call Nancy Ori at 908-790-8820.

International Pet Owners Club seeks photo entries in the 2005 Fall Cutest Pet Photo Contest. Send photo to The International Pet Owners Club, Box 2002, Pittsburg, KS 66762 or submit to www.cutestpetcontest.com. Entries must be postmarked by September 30.

D-Day Trip

The Association of Sons and Daughters of WWII Veterans leads a group to England and France to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of D-Day, the Battle of Normandy, and the drive through France to the Rhine. A memorial service will be held at Colleville Sur Mer in France. Call Sy Canton at 561-865-8795 for information.

Volunteers Needed

Hunterdon Museum of Art seeks volunteers to gallery sit for the current exhibition, "Artist Book Exhibition and Portraits of Amelia," that runs through October 16. Contact Sue Barto at volunteers@hunterdonmuseumofart.org or call 908-736-8415.

Literacy Volunteers in Mercer County seeks student or tutor volunteer musicians for a musicale to benefit the association. The event will be held on a Saturday evening in November in Princeton. Call 609-587-6027 for information.

ARTWORKS and Mercer College begin non-credit courses for every level of artistic ability including pastels, oil painting, figure drawing, clay sculpture, and watercolors. Classes are held at 19 Everett Ally, Trenton. ARTWORKS for Kids classes beginning September 10 include "Drawing Basics," "Introduction to Painting," and "The Art Sampler." For information and registration visit www.mccc.edu or call 609-586-9446.

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