In spite of its rather intriguing title (and those of several of its selections), Secret Exit to Another Dimension, by Belgian bassist Piet Verbist's well-schooled trio, consists for the most part of the sort of gentle, heartwarming jazz one might hear on a given evening in any number of upscale nightspots around the world. In fact, if guitarist Hendrik Braeckman were to be replaced by pianist Tamir Hendelman, Verbist's threesome might sound remarkably akin to the superlative Jeff Hamilton Trio, which is high praise indeed.
That's mainly true because Verbist and drummer Lionel Beuvens are on near-equal footing with Hamilton and his bassist of choice, Jon Hamar, heard on the Hamilton Trio's excellent Christmas album, Merry & Bright (Capri, 2021). There's no point in alleging that one trio is "better" than the other; each one is impressive in its own way, which is all that need be said. One difference is that whereas Hamilton leans toward standards from the Great American Songbook, there are none on Secret Exit. Verbist composed half of the album's ten selections, Braeckman two, Beuvens one. The others are Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" and Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica."
There is one departure from the norm: Verbist's "Secret Exit," on which Braeckman's guitar assumes a more raucous persona, thus lending the theme a more contemporary posture, an embarkation underlined by Beuvens' emphatic timekeeping. Elsewhere, Braeckman hews more closely to the style epitomized in "Ji Ha," the guitarist's shorthand salute to one of his musical touchstones, the late Jim Hall. Braeckman also wrote the light-hearted "Map Map," Beuvens the pensive "Bridge House." "Cheryl," one of Parker's lesser-known themes, is bright and sassy (with splendid work by Braeckman on tom-toms, snares and cymbals), and "Pannonica" is cool and refreshing. Needless to say, everyone in the trio is a first-class soloist, and there is enough variety in the well-designed program to engage and sustain the listener's interest.
As trio sessions go, this one is well above average, thanks to an astute choice of music and the sure-handed interaction of Verbist and his teammates.