(XJAZZ! Berlin. 4-8 May 2022. Preview by Izzy Blankfield)
Berlin is a city constantly in flux, and its jazz scene is no different. This year’s XJAZZ! Festival – taking place from 4 to 8 May in the city’s vibrant Kreuzberg neighbourhood – will showcase the musical depth and variety that the German capital has to offer. The strong and very international line-up will also feature, among others, quite a few British musicians… Feature by Izzy Blankfield.
Since it burst on to the Berlin stage for the first time in 2014, XJAZZ! has had a clear purpose: to break with convention and turn the German jazz scene on its head. This year’s festival – with more than 80 concerts and 250 performers from all over the world – will offer a platform for both well-known performers and rising talents to carve out new spaces in the ever-changing jazz landscape.
“The idea was to develop a jazz festival format which should represent a clear antithesis to the established German jazz culture,” the festival’s founder and artistic director, Sebastian Studnitzky, explains.
XJAZZ! has certainly earnt its place as a key player in Berlin’s edgy counterculture, seeing almost 20,000 visitors in 2019. Even in the midst of the pandemic in 2021, the festival organised 20 online concerts, with two interactive shows broadcast each night from the iconic Emmauskirche in Kreuzberg to a large online audience.
The Emmauskirche will again be the focal point of this year’s festival, as XJAZZ!’s loyal audience are invited back to Kreuzberg in person for a line-up that promises to be both entertaining and though-provoking.
The range of ticket options, including a twelve-concert pass, will give jazz fans the chance to curate their own festival experience. From large concert halls to quirky nightclubs, the festival’s venues are spread out across Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood – all within walking distance of each other.
Studnitzky tells me: “The line-up is a typical XJAZZ! mixture of combining trendy international jazz acts with a lot of unknown upcoming acts from the multinational scene in and connected to Berlin. Since none of the venues is a real jazz venue, there’s a very special vibe with a lot of young and non-typical jazz audiences.”
Opening the festival on Thursday 4 May with a focus on local jazz music is Berlin-based group The Cycles Collective, who will present a night of sounds, words, movement and connections in the intimate space of the Emmauskirche. On the same evening the nightclub FluxBau will host the dynamic new cultural initiative FRAMED e.V. for a multimedia showcase bringing together music, dance and video.
Following on from the whirlwind opening night, Monika Borzym,one of Poland’s most popular jazz singers, will be joined on stage at the bar Orania by the jazz harmonica player Kacper Smolinski on Thursday 5 May. Less than half an hour away but in an entirely different world of sound, Grammy award-nominated trumpeter Theo Croker will present his latest project, BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST, at the bustling Lido concert hall.
Although British soul singer Pip Millett’s show at Privatclub Berlin is completely sold out, festival goers are certainly not without options for Thursday night. UK rising talent Emma-Jean Thackray, French pianist Chassol and Helsinki-based saxophonist and composer Timo Lassy will also be performing across the neighbourhood.
One of the highlights of the festival is sure to be the award-winning British tenor saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia, who will perform on Friday 6 May at the Festsaal Kreuzberg alongside bassist Etienne Reniard and drummer Nicolas Charlier.
21-year-old singer-songwriter Rosie Frater-Taylor, another rising star of the UK jazz scene, will also take to the stage on the Friday night. Berlin-based saxophonist Olga Amelchenko will perform with her brand new band Helicon for a night of music blending contemporary classical, jazz and folk.
Concerts by Brazilian guitarist Pedro Martins and American singer Lady Blackbird, a late night show from singer and visual artist Douniah and a performance at the Emmauskirche by internationally-renowned trumpeter Avishai Cohen complete Friday’s line-up.
Saturday 7 May is set to be no less exciting. Berlin-based Afro-Soul group Jembaa Groove, singer and composer Alma Naidu and vibraphone player Pascal Schumacher will perform to audiences across Kreuzberg. Prince Charles – a nightclub located in the Bechstein piano factory’s former employee swimming pool – will play host to one of the festival’s centrepieces: a large ensemble curated by German up-and-coming singer and producer Leona Berlin.
The final night of the festival will return to the intimate space of the Emmauskirche. Kit Downes will perform on the church’s uniquely built organ, before the church is transformed into a space of shared improvisation by pianist Johanna Summer, vibraphonist Christoph Dell saxophonist Wanja Slavin and drummer Sebastian Merk. Drawing this year’s XJAZZ! festival to a close is Monika Werkstatt, a collective of female artists bringing together free improvisation, electronica and hypnotic ambient noise.
XJAZZ! 2022 will explore the way in which performers, composers and their music interact with the diverse urban landscape of Berlin. The five-day festival promises to be a real celebration of the vibrant and unique jazz scene that Berlin is proud to cultivate.
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