Jérôme Beaulieu was ecstatic on my computer screen. Gilles Peterson, the instigator of the early-’90s acid-jazz movement, and founder of the genre’s beacon label, Talkin’ Loud, had just played Misc’s freshly released track “Mad” – from the album Partager l’ambulance – on his BBC Radio 6 show.

Misc“It’s always been clear to me,” says the pianist, “that the Misc adventure couldn’t be confined to the province of Québec. We make niche instrumental music, and that means your market needs to be international, if you have any hope of earning a living with it. We did get visibility through the Révélation Radio-Canada Jazz 2013-2014 (back when the band was called Trio Jérôme Beaulieu), and that allowed us to tour. But it’s not enough. We’re developing the market in France and Great Britain. They love our style of music there.”

It’s true that the three teasers dropped on YouTube ahead of the release of Partager l’ambulance (“Mad,” “Le Preacher,” and “Superman se pointera pas”) are quite intriguing. The animated shorts seem to evoke the global, anxiety-inducing crisis that Misc is trying to evoke with a symbolic raft, that carries an ambulance, and floats on the clouds with the help of a makeshift parachute – an idea created by illustrator Christophe B. De Muri.

“Re-inventing the jazz trio is ‘in’ at the moment,” says Beaulieu. “It’s also a reflection of the way we consume increasingly eclectic music; musical genres are harder and harder to define, anyway. Having access to all the music that exists with a single click can become dizzying.”

The trio went through two bassist changes – one of them went on to become an osteopath – since the release of their debut Misc  in 2016 and Misctape Vol. 1 in 2017. At that point, the future of Jérôme Beaulieu’s trio was somewhat uncertain. “I don’t have a Plan B,” he says, “and there won’t be one!”

Then luck struck: Maurin Auxéméry, of the Montréal International Jazz Festival, gave them a challenge: re-visit the music of an artist that inspired them for a single show. The trio picked James Blake’s eponymous album of introspective electronica, released in 2011.

“It’s music that has no points of reference for a jazz trio,” says Beaulieu. “It’s so granular and electronically processed that we thought, ‘My God! What a trip! There are no clear sonic references.’ That show allowed us to integrate a whole new sound spectrum, and to adapt it to the trio’s very organic sound. His sonic references pulled us out of our universe, yet still allowed us to remain true to ourselves.”

Partager l’ambulance is directly inspired by this innovative homage to Blake, and heavily influenced by (the now defunct) Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST) – Svensson being the Swedish explorer of the possibilities of the piano trio. Beaulieu, drummer William Côté, and bassist Simon Pagé locked themselves up in their studio, a batcave of endless possibilities.

“We added a whole bunch of sound effects,” says Beaulieu. “Our modus operandi is that everything in our music has to be tweak-able. The last thing we want is to become prisoners of a sequence that goes on and on; the interaction, on which jazz is based, must remain. There’s all kinds of stuff. For example, I put a piezo microphone (designed for guitars) inside the piano, so I can run the signal through effects pedals, and I also have a volume pedal, so I can control the balance between the piano and the electronics in real time.”

And when that piano plays thrums, one feels stuck to the ceiling. The vigorous rhythm section follows it in every detour and the melodies on Partager l’ambulance are timeless and compelling. In other words, we’re ultimately treated to something miles away from the usual jazz trio offerings. Misc isn’t the type of act to jump on any bandwagon. This album is openly aggressive.

“We had no idea the pandemic was coming when we recorded this in 2019,” says Beaulieu. “It’s the news that gave us this sense of urgency, especially when it comes to the environment.”

The trio has unquestionably crossed a threshold, that of a charming, precarious balance of its new music and its past. Misc seems to be able to cut creative jazz by the yard. And it’s probably as intense live as it is on record. So here’s to being able to experience it in person someday!

When screen composer, songwriter, and producer Hamish Thomson was six years old, growing up in Powell River, B.C., his father – a seasoned bagpipe player – signed him up as a drummer with the local pipe and drum band. Though he was so small he could barely lift his drum, Thomson was hooked. “That was the start of my career in music,” he recalls.

As much as he was enamoured with the music, however, Thomson struggled to read the notes he was supposed to play. Diagnosed with dyslexia and synesthesia (a condition which allows him to see music as colour), Thomson’s earliest teachers encouraged him to feel the music instead, rather than fixating on the notes. “If I slowed down, I could almost see the notes as a painting,” he explains.

But even after completing music school, forming a touring trio, Big Tall Garden, in Vancouver, and signing a deal with Nettwerk Records as a solo electronica artist under the name The Hermit, Thomson continued to grapple with imposter syndrome, worried that he would be “busted” for not being able to read music. Instead, the Nettwerk team asked him where he saw his career going. Though he was only in his mid-20s, even Thomson was surprised by the clarity of his vision: he wanted to be a screen composer.

In time, he began performing to integrated visuals, inviting his audiences to “see and feel the music, and to let them into my brain a bit.” Finally, as his music began to land film placements, Thomson quit his day job and turned his full attention to creating tracks for licensing, and to producing music out of his Vancouver studio, as well as working as a session player.

“Sometimes I couldn’t even see, I was crying so hard”

His first opportunity to compose for the screen came when a film director friend asked Thomson to score his 2016 independent feature, Grand Unified Theory. “My palms started sweating,” he laughs. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready.’” But Thomson took up the challenge, drawing on his synesthesia to compose in colours designed to fit the mood of each chapter in the film. “It opened my eyes to trusting in the process, and in myself,” he says.

Soon after, Thomson connected with director Martin Wood, who was preparing to shoot a number of episodes of the television drama Chesapeake Shores for the Hallmark Channel. Without telling Thomson, Wood went to the network and pitched him as the composer for the series. Though it was a longshot, they said yes.

But the day before Thomson learned that he had the gig, he got the worst news of his life: his 14-year-old son, Lachlan, had taken his own life. Two weeks after his son’s death, however, Thomson was in the studio, channelling his grief into the creative process.

“Sometimes I couldn’t even see, I was crying so hard,” he says. “But as soon as I pressed ‘Play,’ I don’t know what happened, but the music just flowed out of me.” He has since scored more than 40 television episodes and movies, including the 2020 Netflix original, Operation Christmas Drop, which involved creating an original score for orchestra.

When work slowed down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomson finally had a chance to take stock of what he’d been through in the last five years. He also found himself with the urge to make music for himself again.

“After Lachlan passed, I felt the urge to write lyrics and sing,” he says, acknowledging that he had not felt vulnerable enough to do so in the past. The result is a new six-song EP, Gone Gone Gone, which sees Thomson delving into his shadow side, and finding his own voice in a new way.

“It has re-stoked that fire within me,” he says. “What a gift it’s been to have these opportunities to be doing film scores, and also to be writing songs again, doing that kind of creation. It’s been really rich to have all of those layers present themselves…to have all of my loves come together.”

When Kellie Loder was 14, their (Loder uses gender-neutral pronouns) older cousin died in a car accident. Inspired by a poem a friend had written in his honour, Loder decided to try setting the words to music – and quickly found their calling. “I realized I could write songs,” they say. “From there it snowballed into me being a songwriter. I knew early on that I felt so much joy from writing songs.”

Raised in a religious household in rural Newfoundland, Loder, 32, used their writing to make sense of their world, including their own sexuality. “Being a closeted Christian person who grew up in a very strict Christian home, it was my only outlet,” they say.

At the same time, however, Loder’s spiritual and musical worlds were deeply connected: as a two-year-old, they learned rhythm from banging on church pews during church services, and by 10 they were playing drums in the church band: “That’s basically where I learned to play music.”

“Whatever my music is, that’s what my life is”

So, when it came to a direction for their first records, Loder, who was by then studying nursing, turned to what they knew. “I listened to a lot of worship music, and I was passionate about my spirituality… I just wanted to sing about it,” they say. They were nominated as Female Artist of the Year at the 2010 MusicNL Awards, and as Gospel Artist of the Year in 2011, with their sophomore album, Imperfections & Directions, nominated for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year at the 2012 JUNO Awards.

But after that success, what followed for Loder was a period of introspection – and a decision to step away from their music career for a period. “I was trying to find myself,” they say. “I did a lot of soul-searching and a lot of writing.”

In 2015, they headed back to school to study music performance, connecting with classmate Daniel Adams, an aspiring producer. The pair began collaborating, producing Loder’s song  “Boxes,” which won MusicNL’s Video of the Year in 2017. More recently, the duo worked together to produce Loder’s 2019 tune “Fearless,” which was used in the trailer for IMAX film Superpower Dogs, narrated by Captain America’s Chris Evans.

Now dividing their time between St. John’s and Toronto, Loder – who’s shared stages with Steven Page, Stephen Fearing and Alan Doyle – is excited about the possibility of doing more writing for film, as well as for other performers. And while still deeply spiritual, they’re also intent on establishing a career outside of the genre constraints of those early albums.

“The problem with identifying as a Christian artist is that it pigeonholed me to only reach a certain audience, and that was hard,” they say. Instead, Loder wants to focus on saying what they need to say with their music, and to avoid the labels – just as they’re doing with their gender identity.

In their 2018 tune “Molded Like a Monster,” for example, Loder explores the pain of being born into a world where you don’t feel you fit, and about what might happen if love were allowed to triumph over hate: Singin’ oh my goodness / We are more the same than different / Cut the noise / Oh crack the code / Break the mold.

For Loder, making music is still the most immediate way they have to make sense of their world.

“Whatever my music is, that’s what my life is; or what my life is, that’s what my music is,” they say with a laugh. “My truest form of art is just me and a guitar. I feel the most whole and alive when I sing songs like that, when I present my songs the way they were written. That’s when the true Kellie comes out.”