The Improvising Ensemble of Qianxingzhe is Xu Fengxia (voice, guzheng, saxian), Li Tieqiao (sax, Scandinavia spring flute) and Kristian Mondrup Nielsen (dr). The concert (and the small tour) was sponsored by the German Goethe Institute in order to bring musicians of different cultures together to break down national and ethnic borders – a noble intention and an interesting approach because it crosses global frontiers giving the musicians the possibility to look for unknown pastures, exploring what could be anew out there “to juxtapose the whole wide world with itself”, as Steve Day said. Bringing together such musicians is not an odd idea of homogeneity, it is actually about music outside the known framework so that, for example, combining Xu’s guzheng, which is an important voice in Chinese folk music with Brötzmann’s sax, maybe the most distinctive force in Western free jazz, so that they can build something which has not been heard before.
On this album Brötzmann does not appear on all tracks. He plays an alto solo on “Walking in Wu Men”, two tracks with the complete band – who join him on “Bejing Legend” and “Feel as if we were visiting your Country of Birth”, a sax duo with Li (“Art District 798”) and one with Xu (“Moat) where he plays the tarogato.
Sometimes the culture clash has its moments, for example in Brötzmann’s duets with Xu and Li, but sometimes it is – frankly speaking - rather lame. The reasons for it are mainly Kristian Mondrup Nielsen, whose drumming is often listless and dull (especially if you compare it to Paal Nilsson-Love’s powerful precision) and the fact that the interaction between the players does not always work. Last but not least Xu’s voice takes some getting used to. The three tracks without Brötzmann are rather mediocre as well, listening to the other tracks shows what a difference Brötzmann’s sound can make to any group.
But somehow it is relieving that not every combination of musicians Peter Brötzmann is a part of is a true gem, although it is an interesting experiment.
“China Live 2011” is available as a CD plus DVD set. The DVD shows the whole concert including a bonus track by Xu Fengxia. It is fun to watch because of the strange location for this kind of music (it looks like a discotheque). Unfortunately, the CD/DVD set is relatively expensive. For Brötzmann aficionados it might be a must, for listeners with a smaller budget the other albums being reviewed this week may be more attractive.