Musician, performer, and conceptualist Stefan Kristinkov isn’t content with listeners merely enjoying his music. He hopes for that, without question, but his greater prize is provoking an intellectual and physical connection with his work rather than the latter alone. A wide gamut of musical styles is present in his compositions. Astute listeners will pluck jazz, post-modernism, Eastern European minimalist, and classical music out of the mix but Kristinkov unites these seemingly disparate elements into a unified whole.This level of excellence has allowed him to achieve notable success as both a concert and film music composer and his latest release Clarinet Vibe provides ample evidence of those gifts.  


He works with a variety of collaborators during this EP. Drummer Adam Alesi teams with Kristinkov for the opener “Things to See” and its title implies an exploratory spirit the track delivers on. Kristinkov’s clarinet playing conjures several melodic ideas that Alesi’s drumming counterpoints in the musical dialogue. This opening cut makes it clear that superlative production will be one of Clarinet Vibe’s strengths – the dry snap of Alesi’s percussion has an authoritative impact.

New York based guitarist and bassist Itaiguara Brandão appears on the second song “Summer Forest”. Much of the track hinges on a central melodic phrase, brief but memorable, though the composition branches off in the second half. Brandão’s contributions to the song are fully integrated into the arrangement and the fluid rhythm section attack is its obvious foundation. “Smooth Ride” lives up to its title. It rolls out for listeners with just the right amount of energy. His clarinet playing is especially excellent here and invokes a restive, introspective mood.

“Last of a Kind” has surprising commercial appeal. This is thanks, in no small part, to the tasty groove the players find straight out of the gate. There’s a slight smoky near R&B feel wafting off this groove, the light keyboards flaring in the background duels well with the clarinet, and the drumming rates among the EP’s finest moments. Clarinet Vibe concludes with “Searching the Skies”, the collection’s longest composition, and an ideal exit. Kristinkov and his musical partner pick up the pace here without ever going overboard. The quasi-shuffle rhythms of the percussion give “Searching the Skies” a feel of pulling listeners along towards its conclusion. It’s much more straight-forward than other tracks on this release and provides the EP with a definitive ending.

It is easy to hear why he’s been successful landing film work. His compositions have an intensely visual quality; it isn’t difficult to imagine them working as the soundtrack for an array of movies and television programs. Clarinet Vibe may only feature five tracks but produces the same emotional response achieved by much longer efforts. Stefan Kristinkov’s melodic imagination, restless creative spirit, and accessibility come together in a well-rounded fashion and burns bright with confidence. He plays as a unit with the other musicians rather than wearying listeners with any virtuoso trips and it helps make Clarinet Vibe one of the year’s best instrumental releases. 

Garth Thomas