José James at XJAZZ

José James
José James on Sunday night at Neue Heimat, Berlin

It was the final night of this year’s highly entertaining XJAZZ Festival – the area in Friedrichshain was run over by people visiting the Village Market, a weekly streetfood festival catering to all kinds of foodies, food junkies, and everyone else in between.

But on the night before, artistic director Sebastian Studnitzky played his latest project called “Memento” with the Berliner Camerata, a chamber orchestra effectively enhancing and accompanying Sebastian’s minimalistic, almost Nordic sounding, sometimes dark, sometimes tender, compositions. He played trumpet and piano and sang (not sure if he should pursue the singing further but in that particular song, it just fitted the atmosphere). Kreuzberg’s Lido was totally packed and Sebastian actually managed to combine Classical and Jazz/Improv without sounding trite or superficial.

Fast forward to Sunday night. Neue Heimat, the unfinished hall on the RAW site, was the perfect home for José James and his Billie Holiday tribute. He started out with a super sexy “Good Morning Heartache” and had his ace accompanists with him: Leo Genovese on piano, Solomon Dorsey on bass, and Nate Smith on drums. After the bluesy “Fine And Mellow”, he switched to material from his older albums, like the brooding and sinewy attack of “Trouble” or the sheer beauty of “Come To My Door”. It was interesting to note how well his own material blended with the classic Lady Day repertoire. He came back to another one, “God Bless The Child”, towards the end of his set which was a special highlight and a well-deserved climax of this young and experimental festival which met a big crowd of curious, music-loving folks.

XJAZZ 2016 will run from May 5-8.

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