4 a.m. by Stevie WIlliams – reviewed by Chris Mann




Multi-instrumentalist 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 player.

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. 

He 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 Alexander O'Neill.


I 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.”


I 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.


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 cake.


The 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.


True 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!


This 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 Salfordian tick.


I 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 the way.


Let’s 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.





Time on Earth Records – TOE8YRS   Producer – Stevie Williams