REVIEW: JASON BECKER – “Triumphant Hearts”
The great Stephen Hawking said “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Stephen Hawking and Jason Becker share many things in common. They are incredibly intelligent and gifted individuals who when presented with a debilitating disease, adapted to this change. In the face of crushing adversity, their superpowers of humor, wit and creativity allowed them to excel. The release of ‘Triumphant Hearts’ showcases a musical maestro using the changes in his life to give us the gift of music.
‘Triumphant Hearts’ gives us the first new music from Jason Becker since his ‘Collection’ release in 2008. The music on this album celebrates the magic of music and its power to allow us all to triumphant over adversity. An added bonus is getting to hear some unreleased tracks from David Lee Roth’s 1991 album ‘A Little Ain’t Enough’. These demo versions are without vocals which allows us to enjoy the full quality of Jason’s guitar playing at that time.
If you aren’t familiar with Jason’s story, then be sure to watch his movie called ‘Not Dead Yet’. The movie provides a riveting look into Jason’s life and how he has transcended his terminal diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s diseas). This album is a testimony to Jason’s tenacity to never surrender.
The self-title opening track “Triumphant Hearts” is a majestic classical piece featuring a string ensemble that includes violinist Gluaco Bertagnin and cellist Hiyori Okuda with a soaring guitar solo by Marty Friedman. You can imagine that the instruments are voices calling out in ecstasy to heaven. This song and “Once Upon A Melody” exude a feeling of joy. Their cinematic quality allows your mind to conjure up scenes of sweeping vistas, dazzling forests, or the meditative flow of a mountain stream. An added bonus on “Once Upon A Melody” is guitar work from Jason’s teen years. The ending casts the sense that you were in a dream as you hear a very young Jason talking with his father.
The song “Hold On To Love” featuring the lush vocal talent of Codany Holiday explains how Jason uses the power of love to avoid being consumed by the staggering loss he has been confronted with in his life. I think of it as a song of thanks to his family and close friends. Without their love and support, he wouldn’t be here today to continue giving us his gift.
For my money, the best song on ‘Triumphant Hearts’ is “Fantasy Weaver” which showcases the delightful ukulele of Jake Shimabukuro. Here again we find a song that invokes images within your mind. Whether that is sailing across the oceans under a summer blue sky or strolling in a orchard of apple trees in bloom with the pinkish white pedals fluttering around you. The sweet smell of adventure and wonder prevails on this song.
“We are One” is a funk-fest with the velvet vocals of Steve Knight on top of a rocking funk guitar track that Jason actually wrote before he lost his ability to play due to ALS. There is definitely a late 80’s hip vibe that should remind you of classics from back in the Miami Vice era.
The intro classical guitar on “Magic Woman” intriguingly sounds like a song that I should know, but can’t place. Like many songs on this album, you can’t help but feel that they convey a sense of wonder. The music seems to ask the searching questions of who are we and why are we here? As I listened, my mind thought of the elation of being alive while reflecting on how precious our time is. This song features the powerful guitar work of Uli Jon Roth and Chris Broderick.
The cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin In The Wind” fits perfectly with the reflective nature of ‘Triumphant Hearts’. While many refer to this Dylan song as an anti-war or civil rights song, I wonder if Jason thinks of it in terms of the overall message. That message being that we all know the right thing to do, if only we listen to ourselves and take action.
If you listened to Jason Becker’s ‘Collection’ album, you may remember the song “River of Longing”. On this version, we get to experience it through the guitar work of Joe Satriani, Aleks Sever, Guthrie Govan, and Steve Morse. Each artists adds their own unique brush stroke on the canvas created by Jason Becker. The mood of the piece ebbs and flows like a river with solos smoothly flowing, rumbling like rapids, and cascading like a waterfall. There is a second version of the long on the album which lets Trevor Rabin take the reins and run which is equally pleasing.
Probably one of the most talked about tracks on the album is “Valley of Fire” that is named after a state park in Nevada which features a stunning landscape of Aztec sandstone. It reminded Jason of settings used in the old western movies. You can hear a spaghetti western soundtrack spinning the yarn of the Magnificent 13 (a play on the movie title ‘The Magnificent Seven’). The gun slingers in this tale trade in their weapons for guitars and let them blaze under the desert sky. The 13 guitar-slingers that Jason has assembled are Michael Lee Firkins, Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Neal Schon, Mattias IA Eklundh, Marty Friedman, Greg Howe, Jeff Loomis, Richie Kotzen, Gus G., Steve Hunter, and Ben Woods.
Triumphant Hearts by Jason Becker is a testament to the unyielding spirit of an artist driven to create. No matter what the challenge or hardship, a true artist’s life force is ignited and fueled by their work. The music on this album personifies the loving spirit of its creator. You cannot help but be inspired by these compositions and admire the composer for the sheer joy he brings to us through them.