The liner notes of Tommy Vig's Welcome to Hungary certainly create an interesting first impression. The booklet is essentially an extended rant by Vig that touches on everything from politics to aesthetics to metaphysics. If nothing else, the reader understands that Vig despises multinational corporations, rock music, fusion, and especially the Beatles.
The music is almost as enigmatic as the liner notes, but thankfully much more focused. Indeed, Tommy Vig has created an original, strangely intuitive, and ultimately satisfying big band. This music is avant garde, and dissonance is integral to their vision. That said, Vig's pieces are about as catchy as avant garde big bands could conceivably be. Fast unison parts are balanced with clear melodies, and rounded out with explorative soloing and inventive charts.
Tommy Vig and saxophonist David Murray work well together, and the sensitive interaction between the two players lends a sense of direction to the proceedings. Many songs feature extensive parts in which these two artists are featured without the rest of the band. Murray's solos retain their challenging nature but never sound grating in the context of Vig's more atmospheric vibraphone playing.
Given how adventurous this music is, the horn charts sometimes sound surprisingly old-fashioned. Many of the tunes are based off of a swinging riff, recalling the classic swing bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie. But this is just a starting point, as Vig and Murray explore each song with thoroughly modern harmony. And this is not just limited to the solos—the developmental sections of each song are as difficult and demanding as 20th century classical music, while remaining firmly in a jazz aesthetic.
Highlights of the set include the lengthy and cerebral "Sahara" and the Thelonious Monk tribute "In Memory of Monk." The latter song seems particularly suited to this record, as Vig and Thelonious Monk each share an idiosyncratic, dissonant, and yet curiously catchy musical vision. Every song on this recording has something to offer, and there is not a single weak track.
Welcome to Hungary! also contains five bonus tracks. These tend to sound absurd. The first three songs use a drum machine that sounds remarkably dated—not only does the drum machine sound cheesy and out of place, it is also much too stiff for this swinging music. According to the liner notes, "Me Shall (A Serious Parody) is meant to slight the Beatles, although what Vig's parody and the Beatles have in common is anyone's guess.
Despite its cranky eccentricities, this is worth seeking out. It is an original, swinging and well conceived and well executed effort.