Recorded 15th February 1998 at AirWave Studios, Chicago.
When asked to describe his composition, Treatise, Cornelius Cardew replied, "Well, it's a vertebrate." As John Corbett observes in his liner notes, it is indeed music with a spine. That spine is a 193-page-long score consisting of elaborately calligraphic shapes and drawings running over an empty pair of standard five-line musical staffs. For this recording, Art Lange, who had previously produced a wonderful album interpreting several of Anthony Braxton's more abstract pieces, gathered together some of the finest young improvisers working in Chicago in the late '90s, as well as the Argentine reed player Guillermo Gregorio. Needless to say, a score such as this allows substantial room for imaginative readings but it still exerts a form of control, even as the definition of its many symbols is left to the participants. Almost as if preparing for an arcane and mysterious game, the ensemble members constructed loose agreements as to how certain shapes, lines, and numbers would be interpreted, which instruments would read the illustrations above the middle line, which below, and so on. In some ways, Treatise might be seen as anticipatory of game pieces by composers like John Zorn wherein the guidelines, as expansive as they are, still restrict the action in some way, still require a specific sort of communication between players, ensuring a quality of "Treatise-ness." In the midst of what may sound like free improvisation, signposts are reached where, for example, the group will suddenly play a more or less unison passage or play only low tones. In this performance, lasting the full length of two CDs, the sounds tend toward the quiet, with brief and unexpected louder flurries popping up now and then. As in the fine improvisations of AMM (of which Cardew was a founding member), the music unfolds in a natural, unforced manner with no single instrument seeking prominence. The techniques employed are often of the "extended" variety but the overall texture is one of calm, purposeful advancing, with great attention paid to delicious aural mixes. Treatise is considered by many to be Cardew's most important work and, as the only full recording extant as of 2001, Art Lange's interpretation is as beautiful and appreciative as one could hope.
All Music Guide