Maria Falling Away   CB0006

The music

This CD brings together six of Rick Cox’s elegantly sparse, dark, sensuous, vaguely desolate soundscapes in which emotions seem to bubble just below cool surfaces (tracing a history of his work from 1990 through 2001). Most of these pieces display Cox’s subtle, idiosyncratic electric guitar playing techniques, which sometimes employ preparations placed amid the strings (similar to those utilized in prepared piano works) and the use of such objects as sponges and brushes and glass lab slides to set the instrument’s strings in motion. (Cox has been developing these techniques since the early 1970s.) These works also highlight Cox’s ear for unusual and interesting harmonies.

All the While Toward Us, for pedal steel guitar and electric guitar, is a slow, chorale-like piece that gracefully blends the harmonic worlds of perhaps Bill Evans and Samuel Barber.

Maria Falling Away, for electric guitar and clarinet, explores dark, prepared-guitar sonorities and an intimately recorded clarinet line in the context of a traditional song form.

Beige 2, for electric guitar, alto saxophone, and piano, is a two-part piece in which the development precedes the exposition.

The Years in Streams is a through-composed work that seems almost programmatic as it drifts through rich, complex harmonic fields that feel like segments of a mysterious travelogue. It is scored for electric guitar (utilizing non-traditional playing techniques) and baritone electric guitar, under which floats a single contra-alto clarinet tone.

Long Distance, for electric guitar, sampler, and trumpet, is a chord-voicing study that rides atop a casual, infectious rhythmic stream. Weaving through the work is a semi-improvisational trumpet line.

All the While Toward Us II, for electric guitar, is a re-scoring of the chorale-like piece that opens the CD. Here, in a thinner scoring, it serves as the CD’s coda.

The composer

Rick Cox is a Los Angeles-based composer and multi-instrumentalist. As a featured performer (woodwinds, guitar, and sampler), he can be heard on such popular film scores as The Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and American Beauty (scores by Thomas Newman) and on recent recordings by jazz/new-music trumpeter Jon Hassell. He has also collaborated with guitarist/composer Ry Cooder, arranging, composing and performing on the film scores Last Man Standing and Wim Wenders’ End of Violence. Cox’s own scores include Inside Monkey Zetterland and Corrina, Corrina. He regularly performs in the Los Angeles area with new music, avant-rock, and jazz-oriented ensembles. His concert pieces have been commissioned and performed by chamber ensembles and soloists throughout the U.S. and recorded on the Grenadilla, Advance, Raptoria Caam, and Cold Blue labels.

The performers

Jon Hassell, composer/trumpeter, is generally credited with creating “fourth world” music, a hybrid of Eastern and Western styles of composed and improvised music. Since 1977, he has recorded ten category-defeating solo albums that have been so influential that many of their innovations have become woven anonymously into the texture of contemporary music high and low. After collaborations with Hassell, such pop-based innovators as Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel steered the fourth world idea into the avant-pop sphere, where it has morphed into myriad forms. Hassell’s theatrical scores include Sulla Strada, created for the Venice Biennial, and Zangezi, directed by Peter Sellars. He has done dance works for Merce Cunningham and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. The Kronos Quartet commissioned and recorded his Pano da Costa. Film director Wim Wenders cast Hassell in his film The Million Dollar Hotel, playing both onscreen and offscreen musical roles. Hassell has recorded for the ECM. Warner Bros., Capital, Elektra, Lovely, Tomato, Water Lily Acoustics, Edition E.G., Sub Rosa, Virgin, Intuition, and Materiali Sonori labels.

Thomas Newman is a well-known film composer and an accomplished pianist. As a composer, he has been nominated for four Academy Awards. Among his many scoring credits are The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, The Green Mile, Little Women, Erin Brockovich, The Horse Whisperer, Oscar and Lucinda, The Rapture, Fried Green Tomatoes, Scent of a Woman, The Player, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Unstrung Heroes. Newman (along with Rick Cox and Chas Smith) is a member of the experimental/improvisational quartet Tokyo 77.

Jeff Elmassian is a clarinetist and a Grammy-winning composer. In the 1990s, he toured the U.S., Europe, and Asia with the chamber ensemble Viklarbo and also taught music at Loyola Marymount University and USC. Currently, he runs Endless Noise, a company that provides music for commercials for such firms as Acura, American Express, and Mitsubishi. Elmassian has performed on many film scores and his playing can be heard on the Varese Sarabande, Sony, and Raptoria Caam labels.

Chas Smith, a composer-performer in the American maverick tradition of Harry Partch, creates much of his music from exotic instruments of his own design. As a performer, he regularly appears on feature film scores, playing both pedal steel guitar and his many personally designed instruments. (He may be heard on such film scores as The Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and American Beauty.) Smith has also been featured on recordings by composer Harold Budd. His work can be heard on the Arc Light, Cold Blue, Cantil, MCA, and Straw Dog labels.


“Rick is a hidden master of the crepuscular and the diaphanous.” —Ry Cooder

“[C]hilling atmospheres…; its tones and timbres are subtle and suggestive, exploring a dark world where strange things are happening in the shadows.”Incursion Music Review (Canada)

“[L]uscious, meditative soundscapes. Nothing much happens beyond the harmonious ebb and flow, but why complain—the view from here is lovely enough.”—Michael Barone, Minnesota Public Radio

“Although the music is easy to listen to, puzzling and paradoxical arcana lie beneath its opaquely undulating surfaces…we are not talking about Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony here. However, in some way I cannot explain or even justify, Cox’s music produces an emotional effect (I might call it “comfortingly post-apocalyptic”) not unlike that produced by the last movement of said symphony…if it were to be played at one-sixth its normal speed…. [A]s it goes through you, you are unsure whether the emotions that you are experiencing are pleasant or disturbing. If you imagine floating through the night sky on a large abstract tapestry, you’ll get a feeling for what Cox’s music is like.” —Fanfare magazine

“If Maria is falling away, she is doing so very slowly and gracefully, as in a dream. On this CD, Rick Cox has put works that all share a sense of space, etherealness, and calm…. The magnum opus is The Years in Streams, a soft, trance-inducing 22-minute piece. Very cinematic, it seems structured in tableaux of varying densities and hues…. For the introspective soul, Maria Falling Away offers rich but still accessible music. —All-Music Guide

“Gently undulating melodies are held in soft focus, without becoming cloying; his enveloping harmonies are less innocent than they first appear. Prettiness with a tough core.” —The Wire magazine

“Velvety soundscapes that take the listener on a 54 minute journey with a sublime richness and power that is at once dreamy and grounded. The music is certainly diaphanous, filled with translucent delicate musical textures. Hassell does a superb job on conveying a sense of ethereal expansion on Long Distance. My favorite was All the While Toward Us, featuring Chas Smith doing what he does best, creating sensual atmospherics, which, when combined with those of Rick Cox, will surely turn heads. Rick Cox has brought together a combination of diverse and unique players and techniques reaching far into new realms of the timbral universe, from cascading symphonies of sound to spacious ethereal ambiance. This is transcendent music, with hooks galore, and the more you listen, the better it gets.” —Alternate Music Press

“Quiet music of consummate musicianship…an achingly beautiful suite of pieces featuring slowly, oh-so-slowly shifting soundscapes. One of a kind and clear candidate for every ambienteer’s ‘Best of 2001’ list.” —Stephen Fruitman, Motion (UK) and SONOMU (SoundNoiseMusic Webzine)

“A quietly meditative, thought-provoking experience.”International Record Review

“It’s a beautiful series of musics…. You will be both soothed and stimulated, edified and entertained.” —21st Century Music magazine

“The textures here are misty and shimmering…. Cox and a few others work in a quiet, but unsettling style of avant-garde composition that has been referred to as the ‘Sounthern Calfiornia sound.’… There’s a consistent languid pace and edgy harmonic sensibility…. [It] makes a strong statement for extended guitar.” —New Age Voice

“The atmosphere is rarefied and a little desolate, very cinemagraphic, often icy, always redolent of the twilight. It might seem relaxing if it were not for a persistent sense of unease and menace, which is constantly there under the surface. The thing that captures the listener’s attention more than anything else is Cox’s guitar, set up in a very special way, which sometimes even entails the insertion of objects between the strings. An innovative technique that produces a truly individual sound.” —Il Manifesto (Italy)

“Elegantly guiding us through sensuous soundscapes…. He is inviting us on a free-drifting ride across his different electric guitar techniques…evidence of his propensity for the unusual and the unfamiliar…. A CD that is going to make you play it many times over and over.”—I Heard a Noise webzine (Romania)

“Just close your eyes and listen to guitarist/saxophonist/clarinetist Rick Cox, marvelously surrounded by trumpeter Jon Hassell—it seems that everything he touches turns into gold!—pianist Thomas Newman and guitarist Chas Smith for the skillfully arranged Maria falling away. Vaporous music all in watercolors and soft textures, where each musician brings in his own tasty flavor, especially Hassell who amazes here as much as he did on his solo album Fascinoma, on which, come to think of it, Rick Cox played!” —Classica Repertoire (France)

“Rick Cox is a composer and multi-instrumentalist who has been on the new music scene since the late 1970s. His Maria Falling Away CD from 2001 is completely crammed full of slowly shifting, immensely wide puffs of ethereal beauty that effortlessly waft around your mind ’n’ spirit like innumerable fragile, translucent dream kites in a continuously changing formation of their exclusive understanding. It’s hard to believe this really is a guitar-led music, what with such soft-edged pillowry everywhere and nary a string-pluck in auditory view. But then you read the press release, which describes Rick’s “idiosyncratic playing techniques” on prepared guitar with sponges, brushes and a glass slide. Ah ha! Now I get it…. Any way you slice it, the results are sumptuous. Track five even concedes to a gentle, rocking rhythm with some fairly deep bass. Featuring Rick Cox himself—who, not surprisingly, has played on film scores—on electric guitar, prepared electric guitar, baritone electric guitar, alto sax, contra-alto clarinet and sampler, Jon Hassel on trumpet, Thomas Newman—another film score guy—on piano, Jeff Elmassian on clarinet and Chas Smith on pedal steel guitar. This is a really purty disc that, come bedtime in a small, snowed-in cabin in the tundra, you might want to call your own.”—Arcane Candy

“This is floating ambient music of the highest order…a gentle listening experience that moves the consciousness inward.”Exposé magazine

“Rick Cox’s Maria Falling Away is the one of the strongest entries in Cold Blue’s initial slew of comeback offerings, suggesting a music Brian Eno might have sired had he recorded Before and After Science without synthesizers. Cox layers his prepared electric guitar, saxophone, and clarinet into six ethereal soundscapes, redolent of both serenity and melancholy.” —Michaerl Draine, Twisted Vista