Chicago exposed at Kennedy's Millennium Stage

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center rarely, if ever, disappoints. Case in point: "Black & Whites," Sunday evening's offering from Chicago-based songwriter and composer Daniel Knox in collaboration with photographer John Atwood.

In what one critic called "deeply weird and subversive; a kind of sentimental journey without the sentimentality," "Black & Whites" is the result of Knox's and Atwood's two-month artistic residency at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center in New York last winter.

"I went there to compose a piece about John and his photography," Knox explained. "But what it became was a piece about our mutual town; we both grew up in Springfield, Ill. 'Black & Whites' is a piece about looking at Springfield from Chicago and about our own personal history in both places."

With the mutual chord struck, Atwood scrambled around the two Midwest cities, camera in hand, while Knox, who sings and plays piano in addition to composing, wrote a score of 14 individual pieces to complement the haunting photos brought to him.

Onstage
Daniel Knox
Where: Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Info: Free; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

The presentation features Atwood at the projector, Knox singing at the piano, Jason Toth on drums, Jim Cooper on upright bass and Paul Parts on electric bass.

At face value, the piece appears as music over slide show -- nothing new, really. But as one critic noted, the two artists "communicate a perspective on Chicago deemed harsh, melancholy and romantic ... a seamless performance, difficult to decide where the rolling photos end and the piano begins."

Knox, a self-taught pianist, tends to stay clear of labeling his musical style.

"If I were to explain my music to somebody in a way that would make them interested, I guess I would say I write what you would call cinematic songs that are somewhere between what you would see on a stage and what you would hear in a film score," Knox said. "I tend to write things that are narrative-oriented and create a sense of imagery."

While Knox would seem to prefer having his piece experienced rather than explained to death, he nevertheless adds, "If I was standing out front trying to get people to come in, I suppose I'd feel confident [saying] it's like nothing you've seen or heard before."

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Marie Gullard

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner