By Garaud MacTaggart
Allentown may have an abundance of bars, clubs and restaurants crammed into a few heavily trafficked blocks, but the latest establishment to pop up in the area is a little bit different than the others. PAUSA Art House, located on Wadsworth Street just before it merges into Allen, is set back from the curb and seeks to, as its owners Jon and Lazara Nelson note on the venue’s website, “add a ‘boutique’ entertainment element to the neighborhood.”
The green building with big windows looks like it began life as a hardware store or some other kind of retail shop, although it has been a lived-in structure for the last couple decades. One of the folks from an adjacent business thinks that it was a bar back in the 1940s. However, the Nelsons didn’t check that deeply into the building’s history when they purchased the structure. They were more intent on fulfilling a dream and what they saw as an artistic need.
Their building is all “spiffed up” now with the front door opening into a well-lit parlor containing seats, tables, a bar, stools, and artwork hanging on the walls. Walk a little deeper into the house and you come into another room filled with seats, tables, a long bench running along the room’s edge, a grand piano and more artwork. It’s an intimate setting where patrons can sit close to the musicians performing there Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Stylistically speaking, the acts booked during March, the first month PAUSA Art House opened for business, have been fairly adventurous when compared with some of the other things going on in Allentown. Among the local players showcased so far are Dos Tipos, a Latin jazz piano/percussion duo that took the floor for the venue’s first concert, closely followed by a tango ensemble and, for three days this past week, the Buffalo Percussion Festival.
This last event highlights some of the connections that Jon Nelson has with the University at Buffalo’s music department, where he teaches along with Tom Kolor (who organized the festival) and John Bacon, both of whom played “sets” during the series. It should also be noted that students and former students from the school made up the bulk of the musicians featured over the course of the evenings.
By coming up with a non-academic location dedicated to showcasing these kinds of events, the Nelsons have joined a short list of venues (along with Hallwalls) intent on presenting art that challenges those audiences willing to be challenged. They’ve developed an intimate space for sonic adventures.
It’s where the intriguing cello and percussion duo of Liz Holland and Katie Weissman can demonstrate the artistic possibilities of such a pairing. It’s a place where Morton Feldman’s “Crippled Symmetry,” a 1½ hour long experiment for flute, percussion and keyboard, can get a fair hearing before an audience willing to let the musicians have at it. Seekers after tango rhythms, Latin Jazz, Indian music or avant-garde selections from a wide range of genres, will find that this is a place where these musical variations and others are given the opportunity to find an audience and vice versa.