In the summer of 1959 a 27-year-old David Baker and several bandmates from Indianapolis attended the Lenox School of Music in Lenox, Massachusetts. There they met George Russell, a jazz composer and theorist in his mid-30s who had first gained renown in the late 1940s for his compositions “Cubana-Be, Cubana-Bop” and “A Bird in Igor’s Yard,” and who had published a book about his progressive jazz ideas and theories called The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Russell had recorded several highly noteworthy albums in the 1950s, including Jazz Workshop and New York, New York, and was looking to form his own small group. Baker and his colleagues were young, energetic, and ready to embrace new musical modes of thinking, despite their roots in bebop.
In the next year and a half, after intensive rehearsals with Russell in Indianapolis, the George Russell Sextet–comprising Russell, bassist Chuck Israels, and the nucleus of David Baker’s Indianapolis group–Baker on trombone, David Young on tenor sax, Al Kiger on trumpet, and Joe Hunt on drums–played a well-received three-week gig at New York’s Five Spot club, toured the Midwest, and recorded three albums. The results–At the Five Spot, Stratusphunk, and the rarely-heard Kansas City–can be experienced on this edition of Night Lights.