In 2007, in an article written for The Guardian, Marcus O’Dair asked the following question: “What happens when you mix the intensity of hardcore punk with the improv spirit of John Coltrane?” O’Dair went on to detail a perception of a musical category that seemed to both pose the very question, and provide an answer. The ‘scene,’ as he described it — although notably not referring to any geographical point of convergence, but rather an intercontinental community enabled by modern means of social interaction — was “still decidedly underground, but sufficiently vibrant as to be already attracting attempts to define it,” the most favorable attempt, in his mind — disfavoring ‘dirty jazz,’ ‘trash jazz,’ ‘post-jazz,’ and ‘spazz jazz’ — being the evocative term ‘death jazz.’ O’Dair saw the commonality as representing a yearning to render unnecessary the pitfalls of certain musical categories, with reference to the innocuous, lifeless states of mainstream jazz and rock.
Five years later, Philadelphia trio Many Arms demonstrate that such a yearning still persists. Their inclination to blend turbulently the principles of jazz and punk is presented on their self-titled third album, which is released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Many Arms consists of three tracks; each closes upon 15 minutes in length, and each sets out with a markedly different agenda. Opening track “Beyond Territories” launches straight into an intricately involved riff, which is repeated just about forever, save for a temporary reformation into one of equal painstaking. The jagged music calls to mind precedent Tzadik associates Ahleuchatistas and Ruins, but Many Arms’ resolute perseverance with an idea until its intelligence is thoroughly ingrained in your substance is preeminent. “In Dealing with the Laws of Physics on Planet Earth” is dissimilarly atmospheric in sound and patient in disposition, bearing a doomy quality that vaguely resembles the likes of Earth or Sunn O))). Bassist Johnny DeBlase and guitarist Nick Millevoi explore harmony in a way that is sophisticated, but the overall track resonates with an open naïveté owing distinctively to punk.
Closing track “Rising Artifacts in a Five-Point Field” is a chaotic order of sound, but straightforward by comparison in its homage to certain free jazz authorities of the 1960s. Accordingly, Many Arms does well to impart that the junction of jazz and punk is not one of two isolated paths, and that Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and other such authorities are godfathers of punk to the same merit as Black Flag.