Since making his recording debut with Carmen McRae in the mid-'80s, Scott Colley has been one of the most in-demand bassists, working with Jim Hall and Andrew Hill, among dozens of others. But when Colley has had the opportunity to record as a leader, he has explored provocative originals interpreted with a crop of great players from his generation. Empire is centered around a core group consisting of electric guitarist Bill Frisell, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and drummer Brian Blade, with pianist Craig Taborn added on some tracks. A brief paragraph in the booklet describes the history of the speculative town of Empire, KS, which was undone and doomed to obscurity when the railroad was built well north of the town. Colley's songs have a lonely, haunting quality, especially in the finale to "The Gettin Place," with the simulation of a train at rest fading to the close. The ballad "For Sophia" has a loping, rural flavor with Colley's melodic lead backed by Frisell and Blade. "Speculation" showcases Colley's moody bassline and Taborn's sparse, dark piano. Perhaps the most emotional track is the Colley/Alessi duet, which has hints of Baroque music built into its structure. This often subtle release deserves a quiet setting to be truly appreciated, it is easily one of Scott Colley's finest recordings.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden