Saturday evening's one-time-only meeting of iconic trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler, pianist Myra Melford, alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon and singer Diana Torto brought together four very distinctive voices, and the degree to which one appreciated the show had a lot to do with which voice you came to hear.
Those who came to hear Melford were given short shrift. She was only cut loose once during the set—in an extended, stops-out duet with Irabagon. The young saxophonist, who won over a number of Ottawa fans last year as part of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, showed flashes of his brilliance, but for a man whose last recording was essentially a 75-minute solo, it was meagre stuff.
This was a showcase for Torto, a highly mannered Italian singer with a good range, great tone and exceptional enthusiasm, and the 81-year-old master Wheeler. The expatriate Canadian, who sticks to flugelhorn these days and has some serious mobility challenges, still has a totally original sound. All the signature intervallic leaps, twists and breathy false notes are still evident, and while he is not as strong a player as he once was, his melancholic touch is sure. And then, there are his beautiful, finely wrought compositions, which tug at your heart and send your spirit soaring.
While there were smiles all around the bandstand, and a spirit of triumph at the concert's conclusion, more than a few in the audience used the adjective "sad" in describing the show.
In sum, it was evening of both diminished and fully realized expectations and emotions. Even if you didn't get what you came for, you left with the knowledge that you had witnessed something unique.