Ray: Given your wide playing range of so many musical styles, what informs your choices when it comes down to recording any particular album?
R. Carlos: Oh, that’s an easy one. Much of what I do is playing not from my disciplined, schooled background — say that I can play a series of 60 fourth notes all in tune in a space of time say at 60 or 70 or 90 or 120 beats a minute — that’s something, a technical facility, but it really doesn’t have any purpose.
In my music, my intention is to move people. So I’m more interested in making sure that I get the best sound practicable, with the skills that I have, in order to move someone beside me.
When I was at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., a musician told a whole group of us that you know you’ve become someone who knows how to play their instrument — and someone who plays from their heart — when you can make the old ladies in the front row cry.
So that’s essentially how I work today. I try to move people emotionally. I don’t speak from a technical perspective, but I speak more from telling a personal story out of my own heart and out of my own soul.
Much of what I do comes from there. Much of it is improvisatory in nature. Even the traditional melodies I play I slow down just a bit so I get the real sound of the instrument as it’s working the melodic form.
It’s similar to hearing an individual singing a chant somewhere, either on a personal level or as a part of a ceremony. They’ll slow down the chant just enough so the true effect of what their voice and the purpose of the chant are all about will come through in those songs. And that’s essentially where I try to work all the time.