Colley was born in Los Angeles in 1963. Obsessed with music from an early age, he chose bass at age 11, and by 13 was being tutored by bassist Monty Budwig. He attended Eagle Rock High School, where John Rinaldo was the school’s musical director. He was awarded a full scholarship to the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) after graduation. During his tenure, Colley focused on composition and jazz studies, but also studied privately with Charlie Haden and classical bassist Fred Tinsley of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Colley developed an early reputation as a sideman and composer. In 1986, he was tapped to tour and record with singer Carmen McRae; two years before he earned a Bachelor of Music degree. Afterwards, he relocated to New York City and continued to tour with McRae. His work earned opportunities to work with headliners including Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Jordan, Jim Hall, Roy Hargrove, John Scofield, Joe Henderson, and Art Farmer. By the late ‘90s, he added studio and touring stints with groups led by Joe Lovano, Toots Thielemans, Bobby Hutcherson, and Bob Berg to his resume. He also did extensive touring as a member of Andrew Hill's "Another Point of Departure" sextet. During the first decade of the new century, Colley, now an internationally recognized talent, toured as a member of Hancock’s regular trio and spent five years in Hutcherson's quartet in addition to his membership in Hill’s various groups and Potter's quartet. The bassist issued a pair of albums in 2000: This Place on Steeplechase and The Magic Line for Arabesque, both with colleagues from the Potter group including its leader. Also in 2003, he played on recordings by Donny McCaslin (The Way Through), Brad Shepik (Drip), and the Andrew Hill Jazzpar Octet +1 (The Day the World Stood Still). The following year, Colley continued to work with Potter, Hall, and bands led by trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and David Binney. Between 2005 and 2007, he toured extensively with "Directions in Music," a collaboration with Michael Brecker, Hancock, Roy Hargrove, and Terri Lyne Carrington. He also played trio concerts with Pat Metheny, toured with Hall, and toured Europe and the U.S. with Potter and Antonio Sanchez in addition to traveling and gigging with his own group. Also during that period, Colley and a host of American jazzmen such as Wallace Roney, Gil Goldstein, and Lovano, were part of the large ensemble that accompanied French icon Juliette Greco on her late-career outing Le Temps D'Une Chanson in 2006. Later that year, the bassist played on recordings by McCaslin (Soar, Give and Go), and pianist Kenny Werner (Democracy Live at the Blue Note).
In 2007, Colley issued his bona fide modern jazz classic Architect of the Silent Moment. The critical acclaim pushed the album onto the jazz charts. It was a wildly busy year. In addition to continuing his sideman work with Sipiagin, Werner, and McCaslin, Colley served in Abbey Lincoln's studio ensemble for Abbey Sings Abbey and assumed his membership in Steel House with Simon. The following year, in addition to touring whenever possible with his own band, Colley primarily played on albums by vocalists including Jane Monheit and Monday Michiru.
Colley released the acclaimed Empire in 2010 for CAM Jazz. His lineup included guitarist Bill Frisell (whom the bassist had worked with on Hall's Hemispheres), Blade, Alessi, and Taborn. It was chosen by prominent jazz critics including John Kelman as one of the year's finest jazz releases. Colley toured with his quartet and trio in the U.S., Europe, and South America, Chris Potter's Underground, the Antonio Sanchez Quartet, Magic Circle (a trio with Dave Douglas and Mark Feldman), Binney's quartet, and Werner. He was so busy as a sideman and touring musician he didn’t issue another recording under his own name until 2017.
Over the next five years, Colley played on several important recordings including The Master's Diary with Simon and drummer Clarence Penn, and as bassist in piano trios led by Enrico Pieranunzi and Alex Mercado. In 2014 the bassist and Sanchez served as the rhythm section on Croatian pianist Matija Dedic's Sentiana. The following year Colley took part in the live all-star ECM tribute, Hommage À Eberhard Weber, alongside Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs, Jan Garbarek, and the SWR Big Band. The following year, Colley joined guitarist Julian Lage's trio for Arclight.
Colley released Seven for ArtistShare in 2017. Showcasing his working quartet named Current with pianist/vocalist Kevin Hays, trumpeter Johnathan Finlayson, and drummer Nate Smith, the album drew critical accolades and airplay in Europe, especially when the band toured there. In 2018, Colley joined Joshua Redman, Blade, and Ron Miles for the Grammy-nominated recording Still Dreaming, in a quartet inspired by the legendary Old and New Dreams, made up of former Ornette Coleman sidemen Charlie Haden, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, and Dewey Redman. Colley contributed two compositions to the set including its opener "New Year." The album also included one tune by Coleman ("Comme Il Faut"). The bassist also played on Nels Cline's acclaimed double-offering Currents, Constellations, and on Lage's quintet date Modern Lore. In 2019, Colley, in addition to leading and touring with Current, replaced bassist Larry Grenadier in guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel's working trio with Blade on drums. Their recorded debut, Angular Blues, appeared on ECM in 2020. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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