Stockton Helbing has had quite an education. After graduating from the University of North Texas, where he studied with Ed Soph and was a member of the school's renowned One O'Clock Lab Band, the young drummer completed almost four years of "post-graduate work with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's dynamic tentet, Big Bop Nouveau, for which he also served as music director.
When Maynard died on August 23, 2006, only six days before Helbing's twenty-sixth birthday, the jazz world mourned his loss while Helbing, even though shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of his friend and mentor, tried to pick up the pieces and move on with his career. Having recorded one album, Lodestar, in '05, as part of the "Maynard Ferguson Presents series (he's the only drummer and youngest musician ever given that honor), Helbing returned to the studio in December, 2006 to tape For Nothing Is Secret, a generally likable post-bop session that is on occasion as adventurous as Maynard's later groups but in no way as brash or unreserved.
Among those on board are two other Ferguson alums, saxophonist Chip McNeill and trombonist Steve Wiest, and three old friends from his debut recordingtrumpeter Ken Edwards, guitarist Noel Johnston and bassist Brian Mulholland. Rounding out the group is fast-rising Canadian pianist David Braid (who wrote "Say a Silent Prayer and "Emihl's Ghost ). The other selections, all originals, include McNeill's "If You Could See and two each by Helbing and Matt Wigton. Helbing/Mulholland wrote "Pwned!, Helbing/Mulholland/Tom Luer "Shifty. While each is well-designed, as one would expect from musicians of this caliber, none rises above the commonplace; in other words, there's nothing to separate them from a multitude of comparable jazz tunes.
The solos, too, are essentially workmanlike, poised but less than provocative, as the ensemble for the most part holds the upper hand and Helbing seems happy to play a largely supporting role, unlimbering his arsenal only on the busy opener, "Indiscretions. Wiest, who is featured on "If You Could See, turns some nice phrases, as do Edwards ("Ghost, "The Bad in Good ) and Braid ("Bad in Good, "Pwned!, "Say a Silent Prayer ). McNeill, who plays soprano on "Bad in Good, tenor the rest of the way, holds his more intractable impulses in check most of the time, resorting only occasionally to shrieking and other dissonances, as on "System Theory and "Sco-ing.
Unless one's name is, say, Buddy Rich or Louie Bellson it's hard to be a drummer who's leading a group. Does one play too much? Too little? Too loud? Too soft? Helbing manages to straddle that fence nicely while never losing command. In fact, the group plays quite well as a whole, even though the choice of material is less than exhilarating. When the grade is entered, it's no Secret that Helbing has passed this latest test with room to spare and continues to show promise as a drummer and leader.
A Certain Amount of Indiscretions; System Theory: Reloaded; If You Could See; For Nothing Is Secret; The Bad in Good; Pwned!; Shifty; Say a Silent Prayer; Sco-ing; Emihl
Stockton Helbing: drums, cymbals; Ken Edwards: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chip McNeill: tenor, soprano sax; Steve Wiest: trombone; David Braid: piano, Fender Rhodes; Noel Johnston: guitar; Brian Mulholland: bass.