A highly unusual feat, but a serenely moving document, Armistice 1918 is a compelling jazz tale about love and leaving. While musical suites on the Great War (in Amazon, click popular music and Passchendaele) will understandably seek to impart the emotions and revive the stories of the time, the jazz setting is the peculiar thing about this album.
Carrothers uses a three-part structure, starting logically with a young and loving couple who see their lives split apart as the call goes out to take up arms. As the unavoidable parting takes place and 'Johnnie has gone for a soldier', there is a shift of tone from wailing sadness to downright threat. Life at the front, letters to the folks back home, overnight raids, the waiting, the disillusionment and the silence of the Armistice at the 'outbreak' of peace, these constitute the final part.
Though Carrothers draws largely on the war poets, the emotions grow fiercer and reach climax in compositions of his own making, as in an agonizing woman's cry "I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier".
Honourable and acceptable though all of this may sound, could jazz really be the suitable musical vehicle to shape this kind of tragedy, one will feel tempted to ask. Take the proof of the pudding, resting assured that nowhere does this come in the way of the serene honesty of Carrothers' statement.
Performances that stand out in the overall concept are by Drew Gress, who nearly gets his bass to sing and Peg, Carrothers' wife, whose oppressed, high-pitched voice attains extremes of purity.
Much to Carrothers' credit, he strips the old songs of their sentimentality; quality and integrity float to the surface.
The album comes with a fine insert featuring the poems, lyrics and some remarkable Great war pics.
Full marks for an epitome of beauty through comfort.