Of Randy Weston’s Uhuru Afrika, Brent Burton writes, “The music is not only harder and more percussive than anything Weston had done before, it also beat John Coltrane to large-ensemble Afrocentrism by a good six months” (“Modern Obscurity,” 6/27). Presumably, Burton is alluding to the fact that Weston’s recording was made in November 1960 whereas Coltrane’s Africa/Brass was recorded in May and June 1961.
Burton’s characterization is fraught with misguided assumptions and factual inaccuracies. First, to label the recordings as manifestations of Afrocentricitya concept that didn’t come into vogue until decades lateris downright ridiculous and ahistorical. It is also ridiculous to suggest that Weston and Coltrane were engaged in competition to see whose large-ensemble recordings dealing manifestly with African themes and influences would be released first. Such an interpretation has no basis in fact and does a disservice to the artistic vision and contributions of both musicians.
It is far more accurate to say that Coltrane, like Weston, had long expressed interest in African music and applied those concepts to his own music. After all, he had studied the recordings of Nigerian drummer Michael Babatunde Olatunji. In 1958, he recorded Dial Africa and Gold Coast with fluegelhornist Wilbur Harden and trombonist Curtis Fullersessions that yielded title composition “Dial Africa” and “Tanganyika Strut.” In May 1961, Coltrane recorded Olé, consciously utilizing African elements in “Dahomey Dance.”
Finally, I think it’s unfortunate that Burton succumbed to the somewhat lazy critical conceit of bolstering one musician (Weston) at the expense of putting down another (Coltrane). Randy Weston’s music stands on its own and should not require a critic to resort to such intellectually dubious devices.