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From Benny Goodman to Atahualpa Yupanqui.

There are a pair of musical groups in Buenos Aires that perform the task of making music with infinite relish, total commitment and untrammeled verve. One is Les Luthiers and the other is La Banda Elastica. The former creates comedy with good music and the latter creates good music with comedy. The nexus of the two is Ernesto Acher.

In 1986 Acher left Les Luthiers and invited seven of Argentina's leading musicians to "recover all of music's playfulness and pleasure." This desire to recreate favorite rhythms and have a good time producing the best sounds--punctuated here and there by hilarious gags--brought forth, in 1987, La Banda Elastica. Four years, several awards and a number of tours later, their dedication to satisfying the most discriminating musical tastes while bringing enjoyment to others and themselves remains undiminished.

The original eight members of La Banda Elastica have achieved this feat while remaining together and playing better every day. Ernesto Acher (assorted winds, keyboards and vocal), Hugo Pierre (alto and soprano sax, clarinet), Juan Amaral (bass, guitar and vocal), Ricardo Lew (guitars and percussion), Enrique Varela (saxes, clarinet and vocal), Carlos Constantini (trumpet, flugelhorn and keyboards), Jorge Navarro (keyboards and vocal), and Enrique Roizner (percussion), together now in the "Third Edition" of La Banda Elastica, graciously collect the praises of the music establishment and the audience.

All members of the group have ample talent but the show unmistakably bears the overall stamp of Ernesto Acher and benefits enormously from his theatrical flair. There are jokes, high jinks and comic effects from start to finish, and when the concert is over Acher and his comrades say goodbye to their audience in the foyer of the theater, shaking hands with one and all.

To start things off, the program is presented rolled in a rubber band. It lists the compositions that will "probably" be played as well as the "certain performers."

The concert begins with a darkened stage which then fills up with fireflies created by special lighting effects. Transitions from one theme to the next are helped along by comic accompaniments: linguistic puns such as "Sweet Georgia Brown" rendered in word-for-word translation as "Dulce Jorgelina Marron," jokes by trumpeter-humorist Carlos Constantini, visual gags such as musical scores flying through the air or aerial combat with paper darts. Throughout the show, the eight performers maintain an unspoken communication and exchange looks and, with perfect timing, exit and enter the stage to form quartets, trios and duos. With each pause they exchange instruments or form new combinations. At given moments one or another will perform as soloist, with each receiving equal time in the spotlight.

The carefully crafted, yet flexible, program includes flamenco, bossa nova, blues, rock, tango, Argentine folklore, salsa and musical comedy with a pair of puppets created and handled by Acher and Constantini. Although La Banda Elastica's routines do not cater to classical tastes--or to jazz buffs--they do in fact draw members of the artistic community, intellectuals and, generally, youthful souls from 14 to 80 years of age. In the words of one concert-goer, everyone leaves the hall floating "one meter off the floor with happiness."

Ernesto Acher took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Americas Magazine about La Banda Elastica and his role as its "non-leader."

Americas: It wouldn't surprise me if, in addition to being a well-known composer, professor, architect, singer, saxophonist and leader of La Banda Elastica, you pursued some activity your public didn't know about, some hobby or unrealized ambition?

Ernesto Acher: Well, there are several. I think this may have something to do with my training as an architect. I actually was an architect. In a sense it was a mistaken choice of career. Somehow I accepted the idea that you had to have a serious profession--although I knew music was what I liked best. The academic training I received in architecture was excellent, because I happened to go to university during the best years (between '58 and '64). Those were the most brilliant years from an educational standpoint, when the University of Buenos Aires had just been set up by Risieri Frondizi following the fall of the Peronista regime. The period up to the military coup in '66 was truly remarkable, with high standards in a wide range of subjects. And we had some fabulous professors. In fact, I think I learned form from the architect Baliero and later applied it in music. I have much less training in music than in architecture, yet I really think I'm a much better musician than architect. As for hobbies, or unrealized ambitions: my favorite hobby is building model ships. I am also studying orchestral conducting. I don't think I'll ever conduct, but it opens up a different perspective for me.

Is La Banda Elastica a tribute to the American bands of the old days?

Yes. Don't forget that all of us in La Banda, although our ages vary greatly, have a strong jazz background. We grew up on jazz . . . there's a sound, a feel that we try to respect, the phrasings. Although we do other things, like tangos, folk music or salsa, there's a jazz flavor to them. Moreover, and this is just my opinion, jazz is the most important music of the twentieth century. Wherever you're coming from, because I don't distinguish between popular music and art music, I believe it's the most important, most fertile musical movement, with a creative potential that's far from exhausted. I believe there may be ups and downs in jazz, but it isn't finished. Aside from this matter of jazz, we also receive something from American musical training that we have no use for whatsoever: I want to emphasize strongly that I am not the "leader" of La Banda. I am, rather, the "non-leader." We don't like that role and each one contributes what he's best at. My temperament is to be a team player. I think we all learned through music how to play as a team. That was the band's goal, and the key to our impact on the audience.

You seem to play to please yourselves, and yet the public accepts it as ...

But we don't play to please ourselves. This is a matter about which there is some confusion. I don't believe one plays "for someone," or "for himself (or herself)," or "for others." If the performer is performing seriously, it is as if he were expressing life as he sees it. As musicians we do this by making music. In doing so we create a space in which we reach out. I sometimes feel someone is making music for himself alone, turning his back on the public--and the public senses it. And there are also people who make music for the public and ignore themselves--and that too is sensed. I think these are partial approaches that miss the point of what music is about. Our basic thinking for La Banda follows these lines: "Let's play the music we enjoy, with a few formal innovations from having listened to the masters. Keep the program varied so it can't get boring, don't be pushy, don't indulge in lengthy solos that demand excessive attention from the audience (on the premise that if it can't be said in one minute there probably isn't anything to be said)." Along with this goes the rule that everyone should give of his best. For instance, I'm very unaccomplished on the saxophone compared to Hugo Pierre, the best alto sax in Argentina and a worldclass performer who could play anywhere and in any company. I'm hardly more than a beginner. I like to play a lot of instruments. Hand me an instrument and I'm off. But I'm not a good soloist. I think I'm a good arranger, so I write a lot. Differences and unevennesses don't matter. Everyone has the spotlight for a moment. That way there's no competition. Paradoxically, on the one hand a certain depersonalization sets in, because you become part of a gestalt in which you're supporting whoever is in the spotlight. But even while that depersonalization is happening everyone feels he has his own niche.

About the repertoire. It's an "elastic" repertoire: salsa, flamenco, tango, bolero, samba...

There are the professional musicians who've played for years in bands. I, on the other hand, spent sixteen years in Les Luthiers and studied "serious music." And then there are those who, like Navarro, were not professional musicians but were always soloists. In different ways we all had to play many kinds of music. Navarro, a jazz pianist, had never played tangos. In the first show he had to play a beautiful melodic tango, presented as a duo for soprano sax and piano. He played it with consummate skill, but of course it took lots of work and the right atmosphere. He felt total confidence in the support of the rest of the group. Sometimes we try something and it doesn't work out because of the arrangement or some of the performers. Part of the "elasticity" is the premise that not all eight of us always have to play. When I write an arrangement for a trio, I don't write for three people. I write for eight, but five of them have 148 bars of silence off-stage. Those onstage have to be emotionally supported because they're playing for me. I'm underwriting his effort, he represents me. That's what creates variety. Because as we move from one musical genre to another we keep changing the number of players and we change instruments to explore all possibilities. Having to bridge small gaps is always useful. I was called upon to play in the "Goodman Quartet" because there was no pianist, Navarro--the Goodman pianist--having to play the vibraphone. They taught me; and I practised. At first I played the easy part and Navarro played the difficult part on vibes; then we switched so the piano could be played well and I could clown with the vibes, which didn't need to be played anymore. You might say, "that's doing it the hard way," and it is, but it's making the best of what you've got. My playing filled the gap and the number was a big success. I managed not to miss a beat--but only because I didn't play a single extra note. If I had tried, I would have been in over my head and ruined it.

La Banda Elastica's imitations of various creations are striking. The number with the Muppets, for example, is full of that sly philosophy that Jim Henson expressed in his marvelous songs and dialogues. Is it a tribute or true belief?

A bit of both. I'm a great Muppets fan. I have several films of the programs. When La Banda started we did a number with Kermit in which I sang with Kermit's voice and manipulated the muppet. At the outset La Banda was sort of a private game, until one day we were invited to play in public. That created a big stir, and controversy sprang up concerning the things we had put together, and I said, "Let's hold it. It's all right to sing the song (we were singing Rainbow Connection), but the puppets, and the imitation of the puppet ..." I was worried about that. The best thing was to write to Henson for permission. He very politely replied it couldn't be done, so we had to stop the act. With the experience gained, we designed our own puppets, but, of course, after all that time with the Muppets ... The correspondence with Henson continued and he wished us lots of luck. The terrible blow was that, once we had put our act together and premiered it on May 24, 1990, in Buenos Aires, Henson died. I had wanted to film the number and send it to him, saying, "We're doing this thanks to you. In two senses: because of the Muppets' influence and because you gave us a little push into doing our own design."

La Banda's irreverence is more memorable and amusing because its eight members are not children but grown men who play while performing. For you "playing" seems to have a broad significance ...

Yes, but you know what happens? The Spanish language has a very serious problem. Germanic languages--and French--use the same word for "playing" an instrument, a game or a part, whereas we distinguish between tocar, jugar and actuar. I think the same concept applies in each case. I don't, in fact, think there is a difference between just playing and playing an instrument. To make music is to play. It can involve anything from entertainment to the most profound communication--but it continues to be something you play, like a game. I think a musician is an entertainer in the deepest sense of the word, even if he or she is playing the "St. Matthew Passion" in a church on a holy day. If one is playing in a public place and there are people who bought tickets to listen, that's entertainment. In the same way, if you invite someone to your home, you offer him a drink, chat with him, and try to make sure that he has a good time. The musician is someone who invites someone to his home and says, "Now let's play ..." As Ravel whispered to a pianist who was performing "Pavane for a Dead Princess" with excessive solemnity: "Excuse me, but it's the princess who's dead, not the pavane."

Martha Gil-Montero was born in Cordoba, Argentina, and has lived in the United States since 1979. He works have been published in Argentina, the United States and Brazil.
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Title Annotation:Ernesto Acher
Author:Gil-Montero, Martha; Daniels, Willem
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:interview
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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