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Hype or not?
on June 20, 2002
I read a review by someone who was apparently unimpressed with Jason Becker's playing on Perpetual burn, and would like to add a few comments of my own.
Yes, it is true that there are other wunderkind guitarists out there who can play as well as Jason Becker did at age 17. One thing that needs to be mentioned though is that Jason didn't just plug in and start shredding arpeggios and scalar runs with no attention to what he was really doing. He defined his own STYLE at age 17. Jason displayed a very precocious grasp of acid jazz, speed metal (shredding), classical, and blues.
At first listen, Jason's imaginative style and songwriting are almost abrasive because they are so different from all the neoclassical speed metal "clones". But once you have listened to this album a few times, you begin to feel Jason's personality. You begin to understand that he shouldn't only be lauded for his talent at such a young age, but you begin to realize that his musical imagination is far beyond Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, and others. Jason didn't just take his melodies and harmonize them by replaying everything a 3rd higher. He instead showed true musicianship, and incredible songwriting ability by blending 3 or sometimes 4 completely different melodies. The result is what at first seems to be a (excuse the pun) cacophony, but as you begin to pick out each individual melody and feel how they all come together to form a larger cohesive composition, you can't help but marvel at the brilliant musicianship of Jason. To say "Oh wow! He did all this when he was 17!" is somewhat of an insult to Jason. In my opinion, having listened to hours upon hours of different neoclassical metal, Jason's album "Perpetual Burn" would have been an incredible achievement no matter his age.
Just listen to "Altitudes", and you'll understand why Jason Becker was so far beyond all his contemporaries at the time. Personally I don't care that people can "copycat" Jason's playing. What I would like to know is if these same people can show as much style, songwriting ability, musicianship, originality, humor, emotion, aggression, and talent as Jason. I'm sure I've missed some great guitarists over the years, but back when Perpetual Burn first came out, Jason stood apart from all the other guitarists who were basically saying "look how fast I can play! whee!", and said "I can do that too, but hey, check this out, I can do more than copy Bach and Mozart, I can be original."
There are very few people who have as broad a variation of styles that Jason has shown in his tragically short career. Some names that come to mind are Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. And their careers have spanned several times the number of years that Jason's did. Listen to Perpetual Burn and Jason's other recordings, and like me you will most likely longingly and regretfully wonder what he would be doing nowadays. I for one believe that he would have been in the upper eschelon of guitarists with Mr Vai and Mr Satriani.