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The Reich Stuff

A new boxed set gives minimalist Steve Reich maximum exposure

In a sense, much of Reich's subsequent music can be described as a refinement of his nascent achievements. Even when he's collaborating with famous people such as guitarist Pat Metheny and the members of the Kronos Quartet (who turn up on disc eight's "Electric Counterpoint" and "Different Trains," respectively), he retains his fascination with similar sounds placed in opposition to each other. But his most recent work -- particularly disc ten's "Proverbs," from 1995 -- glows with a renewed interest in romanticism that mirrors the changes fellow neoclassicist Glass has undergone of late. (Witness Glass's relatively lush soundtrack for Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.) Perhaps as Reich ages -- he recently turned 60 -- he is rediscovering the joys of melody. But, as Works documents, it's been quite a while since his music was all that formidable. In fact, he largely left dissonance and atonality behind him in the '60s. Far from being caustic, much of his middle-period writing is as easy to take as new age music, but it's infinitely more intriguing intellectually.

To say that Works is dedicated to the proposition that less is more is to oversimplify Reich's approach: When he's got over a dozen associates hammering out a bare handful of notes, the musical repercussions are hardly subtle. Instead, think of the intricate, interlocking sonic grids at his command as a blueprint for the universe -- an atomic structure as basic as life itself. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

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