Lloyd Swanton’s uncle, Stuart Swanton, a prisoner-of-war held by the Japanese on the Indonesian island of Ambon during World War II, suffered appalling hardships and died the day before Japan surrendered. This double-album magnum opus is part oral history told through music, part heartfelt tribute and part triumph of the imagination. Swanton uses 13 outstanding improvising musicians (including himself on bass) to realise material that ranges from arrangements of hymns penned by his uncle to evocations of the jungle, the heat, the hardship and the prisoners’ superhuman stoicism with its underlying caring camaraderie and good humour.
Swanton’s fascinating liner-notes detail the history and the compositions, although the listener can choose simply to be swept up into an epic journey of beauty, drama and sadness. The enormity of the scope of this project and its resultant music is matched by the love, curiosity and reverence that you sense underpinning it moment by moment, not just in the making, but in the notes themselves as they blow into your ears and touch the heart.