Here's a review of the Stockton Helbing Quartet's album Handprints by renown Jazz critic Scott Yanow:
Stockton Helbing Quartet
Armored Records 8029
Stockton Helbing is a well-respected drummer based in Texas and Oklahoma. But he is actually much more for he leads his own band, founded and runs his own label Armored Records, is a busy educator (including being jazz artist in residence at Oklahoma State University), and has worked with such major names as Doc Severinsen, the late Maynard Ferguson, Jennifer Holliday, the Dallas Wind Symphony, Phil Woods, Clay Jenkins, Randy Brecker, and Kris Berg's Metroplexity Big Band.
And, as one can hear on Handprints, his fifth CD as a leader, Stockton Helbing is a very impressive arranger-composer. He contributed most of the music for Handprints which features tenor-saxophonist David Lown, pianist David Braid and the excellent supportive bassist James Driscoll. While Helbing's drumming is subtle, colorful and stimulating, it is his writing that grabs one's attention on this set.
“Like The Blade,” which opens the program, is a slow ballad that is intense and spiritual, almost like a prayer. Lown's passionate tenor playing is perfect for this song, which is also heard halfway through the program as a tenor/drums “Interlude” and reprised as the closing track.
“Mushface” travels through several moods as Lown contributes some high energy before the music cools down (at least at first) for Braid's piano solo. “Ëostre” is a very original piece full of complexity which contrasts with the minor blues waltz “Handprints,” a descendant of Wayne Shorter's “Footprints.” Braid's piano is inventive and witty on the latter while Lown sounds original in both his sound and his ideas. The post-bop original “Lele's Tune,” which is heard in two parts, is challenging to the musicians yet reasonably accessible to listeners.
Of the other pieces, “Try Again” is a different jazz waltz that inspires very creative piano and tenor solos, the somewhat downbeat ‘It Takes A Toll” has some impressive counterpoint between the right and left hands of Braid, and “The Silent Watcher” is a warm ballad.
Handprints is the type of album that grows in interest with each listen. But what is immediately apparent is that Stockton Helbing has a lot to say as a composer, and that each of these fine musicians does his music justice.
- Scott Yanow, author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists, The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76