Over the course of his six previous albums, starting with his debut Painted Diaries
in 2009, Reza Khan has worked with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz while developing a fascinating trademark fusion of pop, jazz, soul and world influences. His music is steeped in his international roots and status as a socially conscious musical citizen of the world. Along the way, the Bangladesh-born, NYC-based composer and guitarist has enjoyed several breakthrough hits on the Billboard Smooth Jazz chart, including his first Top Ten single “Drop of Faith” (featuring Nils) from his critically acclaimed fifth album Next Train Home
and “Waiting for the Sky” from the 2021 collection Imaginary Road
. Despite this airplay success, he’s always been told that the music he writes and produces is designed more for musicians to play than for the average smooth jazz listener to simply enjoy.
With Khan’s latest album, the intriguingly titled Mystical
, he aims to change all that and create songs as infectious and radio friendly as they are brilliantly performed. Rather than have an overriding narrative concept, his goal was to collaborate with some familiar cohorts (Philippe Saisse, Mark Egan, David Mann, Nils) and others who could bring a fresh, magical, and yes, mystical quality to his songs. His first call was to David Mann, the veteran saxophonist who had brought great horn textures and arrangements to previous albums. He sought his production expertise, but just as importantly, felt that straight on compositional collaboration would be the ticket to unlocking this magic. Mann became an important co-writer, composer, arranger and producer for the album.
While some of the original Khan/Mann tunes like “The Falcon” and “Whispering Trees” indeed tell fascinating, poetic stories of their own, the guitarist began with a different overall vision. He co-wrote every one of the new tracks with a specific well-known genre musician in mind as a featured artist, hoping their positive replies would lead to incredible individual tracks with hit potential that could take the song in a magical/mystical direction Khan couldn’t have imagined upon writing the song.
Building off a foundation of Khan on lead guitar, Bern Schoenhardt on rhythm guitar, Mann on keys and sax, Khan’s guest list – all of whom immediately agreed to participate – includes Saisse, Nils, Jeff Lorber, Bob James, Keiko Matsui, a unique array of bassists (Egan, Jimmy Haslip, Brendan Rothwell, Mel Browne) and drummers (Gary Novak, Brian Dunne and Lionel Cordew. Because the project was recorded during the pandemic, the basic tracks were recorded at Khan’s home studio in Long Island, with Mann putting together remotely created tracks in his NYC studio.
Another unique aspect of the collection that contributes to Mystical
living up to its title is the opportunity to experience new versions of three classic tracks from Reza’s early projects via Mann’s contemporary 2022 productions with new lineups of musicians – “Bahia Mama” (featuring the original vocal by Jennifer Grimm) and “Catalina’s Dream” from Painted Diaries
and “Language of Love” from A Simple Plan (2011). The fact that “Language of Love” and “Catalina’s Dream” are in the cue for future single releases show that Khan’s composing style was always in the pocket, with great hit potential. He just needed Mann’s expertise behind the boards to take it to the next level.
“My goal with Mystical
was to imagine a very magical album where David and I write songs together for certain individual musicians we wanted to bring to the recording,” says Khan. “Every track evolved organically until it became a very different type of conceptual album, with each tune having magical, mysterious elements. I had always composed every song by myself and I enjoyed the exciting learning curve of collaborating differently on each tune. My idea was to focus on how they could appeal broadly to fans of smooth jazz without limiting the inspiration and motivation that has driven me in the past.”
David Mann, sax
Mark Egan, bass
Mauricio Zottarelli, drums
Matt king, keyboards
Fernando Saci, percussions
Olivia Foschi, vocals