a.m. by Stevie WIlliams – reviewed by Chris Mann
Stevie Williams hails from Salford in the north-west of England.
He taught himself piano at the age of eight and had his first
trumpet lesson at twelve years old. He started to play bass after
listening to soul records, and was inspired to become a professional
After leaving music college he formed his first professional band
playing local pubs and clubs and any freelance gigs he could. His first break came in the form of an invitation to join a
jazz trio working onboard the QE2 cruise liner sailing from New York.
It was an incredible learning experience for Stevie:
"there was so much music, we could play a different set each
night!" On days off
he would hang out in New York and take in as much live music as
possible. This had a big influence on his return to the UK.
has delved into session playing, TV work, composition and production
and has been a sideman for Jim Mullen, Hamish Stuart and Tanita
Tikaram among others. He’s
also supported such soul luminaries as Maze, Freddie Jackson and
was fortunate enough to see Acoustic Alchemy near my hometown of
Manchester, England a week ago and it was a great surprise to hear
Stevie Williams’ music for the first time.
On his website www.steviewilliams.co.uk
I read and
heard enough to ask for a copy of his latest CD “4 a.m.”
was immediately caught up by the slow, broody bassline and burned-out
Rhodes on Open Up Your Heart, which starts out like The
Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” and develops beautifully with
more Rhodes, a great soundscape and Steely Dan-type “talking”
guitar (except that it’s bass, in a Brian Bromberg stylie).
This is magnificent urban music.
Pete Simpson’s soulful vocal on the blues shuffler Today I
Stop is really enjoyable and it takes centre stage despite lovely
bass fills and some deft piano from Andy Kingslow.
The measured pace of this Williams original composition is, no
other word for it, perfect.
also is the smoky tone of Simon Willescroft’s tenor horn on the
deep, bluesy, funky Lo-Fi.
It opens with a vinyl scratch like Pieces of a Dream’s
“Voices of Wisdom” and it’s the same mix of old-fashioned feel
and state-of the-art sound engineering.
Williams plays, among others, a Fender Jazz bass and he gets a
sound reminiscent of Marcus Miller on the afro-beat stomper Living
Under the Sun. Apart
from being a joyous song, the balance of instrumentation is spot on
and Graeme Flowers’ lovely trumpet solo is the icing on this golden
second vocal track, Just a Little More, has a warm, funky vibe
and the bass steps back so Pete Simpson’s voice can shine again.
How come I’ve not heard this great singer’s name before?
Listen out for him – and if he’s on Stevie Williams’ next
album, I’ll be very happy. Steve Gilbert’s ringing snare marks time on Mike
Mainieri’s dreamy Skyward Bound while Williams’ lyrical and
rich bass carries the melody. Andy
Kingslow whispers on the Rhodes and the almost gospel intensity of
this tune is complete. I
have to say it again – perfect.
bass virtuosity is on display on Nursery Bass, where the melody
is carried on bass for much of the song.
I know that Stevie plays this live, because I’ve heard him,
and I hope he always does. When
the bass repeats the sung chorus and Iain Dixon’s soprano sax floats
above, it’s a magic moment. Gospel
Summer, an original composition, has at least two bass parts,
great female backing vocals and “churchy” piano and organ.
That bass sound will please Marcus Miller fans (and that
includes me) but the bass, despite being “up front” never becomes
the whole song. The
arrangement is deceptively complex – and brilliant.
As with some other songs featured here, you’d never guess
that drum programming had been used.
I used to have a 12”
single by pianist Mark Soskin called Walk Tall. I never knew that the song was a Joe Zawinul collaboration
and never heard any other versions until this one with its doubled
bass and sax lines to carry the strong melody.
It’s done with taste and style – I love it.
The song that turns me out, though, is the title track.
Minimalist bass with some crisp rimshots is my idea of ‘intro
perfection’. The string
sounds and Rhodes on here provide a lush backdrop to layers of the
cleanest bass you’ll hear. Graeme
Flowers sneaks in on flugelhorn to make this fabulous funk collage
complete. This CD arrived
just hours ago and even after repeated plays of this song I’m still
grooving and wearing headphones to get every detail.
As a piece of production, it’s that rewarding!
is an enhanced CD and I’d urge you to check out the multimedia portion
of this disc to get a fuller picture of what makes this talented
heard of Stevie Williams a week ago and here I am in raptures about his
talent as a composer, producer and expressive bass player.
His live band is strong, the players on this record are strong
and his music feels like it’s going somewhere.
It goes from calming to intensely groovy and is absorbing all
just say, the other two CD’s that dropped through my door today were
a 1978 Bootsy Collins album and the 2006 outing by Zero 7.
Glad as I was to get them, I didn’t find either of them as
satisfying as “4 a.m.”. It’s
surprising and delightful in equal measure.
on Earth Records – TOE8YRS
Producer – Stevie Williams