A socially conscious musical citizen of the world, Reza Khan has a long-established history of blazing fresh trails, pushing limits and finding unique ways to redefine what is possible in contemporary jazz. Working with some of the genre’s most revered sidemen, the Bangladesh born and raised, NYC-based composer/guitarist has, since his 2009 debut Painted Diaries, taken a freewheeling approach to creating his dynamic, infectious yet unpredictable fusion of pop, jazz, soul and world music influences. Having scored his first Billboard Top Ten single with “Drop of Faith” from his critically acclaimed fifth album Next Train Home, the most logical approach moving ahead would have been a slick, in the pocket urban/smooth jazz session. Instead, helping us navigate our way through the darkness, anxiety and steep challenges of the past year, Khan graces us with an empowering way forward along a fascinating, twist and turn filled Imaginary Road.
As the guitarist takes us from the kaleidoscopic rays of sunshine infusing “Waiting for the Sky” to an ultimately hopeful journey of limitless landscapes on the closing title track, he follows in his long tradition of creating a multi-faceted theme driven musical narrative. “Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive, but while working on song sketches in different styles after releasing Next Train Home, my first thought was, how do I make this CD very personal and less commercial,” says Khan, whose previous albums include A Simple Plan (2011), The Dreamwalker (2013) and Wind Dance (2016). “On a sociopolitical scale,” he says, “there were many things going on during the writing that made me as an immigrant ask myself what I believe of America, what it has been and what it will be. I started thinking about survival. Can we survive the pandemic and these toxic politics? As I like to say, it’s becoming unbelievable to believe what you believe in.
“All my previous albums evolved from concepts that were tied to specific themes,” he adds. “I never just put together a batch of single songs. I grew up loving the kinds of concept albums Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project created and have always wanted my works to follow that kind of journey. Otherwise, what’s the meaning? I reflect on the deeper questions I have had lately on songs like ‘Waiting for the Sky,’ where the image of the sky is the hopeful light of certainty after a period of darkness, and ‘I See Stars,’ where if I can view them clearly, I will know where I am.” While Khan’s name is the one atop Imaginary Road and he is credited as writer/producer, the ten-track set is once again a largely collaborative effort featuring his longtime collaborative core band – bassist Mark Egan, pianist Matt King, rhythm and classical guitarist Sergio Pereira, drummer Maurizio Zottarelli – and guest artists David Mann (all wind instruments), Acoustic Alchemy’s Miles Gilderdale (electric lead guitar) and Philippe Saisse (synth, Moog, Melodion, mallets). Khan writes in his eloquent liner notes that he had been traveling to and performing in Spain frequently over the past few years, pre-pandemic. During his last trip to Valencia, he and his band performed at the Matisse Club, a place where jazz and salsa music mingle freely. Inspired by the energy of those gigs, the five-piece ensemble hit the studio one weekend to cut the seven scratch tracks that laid the foundation for what evolved, over the course of the next six months, into Imaginary Road.