The band enters and sets up, quietly, unobtrusively, on the stage in front of Melbourne Town Hall's Grand Organ. They wait expectantly for a few moments, then begin the applause as an old man hobbles onto the stage. McCoy Tyner has a quiet smile, and acknowledges his audience with a humble wave. His legs looking impossibly thin as the knee bones jut out in front of him. He completes the several metre journey to his plush piano seat, sitting down with relief.
With no further ado, the music starts, and all signs of age disappear from this jazz legend. His energetic left hand strikes the bass while his right hand dances along the melody lines. He feels the beat with his whole body; his passion for his music is palpable.
But it's not all about Tyner. Chris Potter on the sax is just fantastic, creating such rich sounds with seemingly effortless control of both his breath and instrument. It is such a pleasure to see a master of the saxophone at work, especially one who's so relaxed about it.
This show is not a series of performers playing music together – it is a seamless machine with each part working perfectly with the whole. Tyner's presence is what seems to direct the music, even though you can't see it happening. Somehow, his band knows when to take up a solo or to reign in their sounds for a sudden shift in focus.
Gerald Cannon on the double bass and Francisco Mela on drums bring a beautiful spirit to the stage. They are full of the joy of performing together, as well as a strong element of respect and wonder for the gentle old man at the piano. These four musicians pass around their musical energy without breaks or, for that matter, sheet music. You can't tell what is improvised and what isn't – their music is completely seamless.
After about 40 minutes of enjoying the sounds and wonderful acoustics of the hall, I remember there is meant to be a vocalist. Very soon, at just the right time in the evening, out walks the humble (and far too gorgeous) Jose James. He seems almost in awe of Tyner, and very modest about taking centre stage.
Jose brings the blues to the evening, but not the down kind of blues – the cool, smooth, delicious kind, like an ocean on a quiet summer night. He embodies the crooning spirit of Johnny Hartman, adding his own joyous touch and gorgeous smile to the songs. When he has sung his piece, he moves back to encourage a shift of focus to the musicians. The connection between James, Cannon and Mela is gorgeous to see – they're having so much fun together, under the wise eyes of Tyner and beside the cool, calm and collected vibes of Chris Potter.
This is a wonderful night of music, and a classic take on jazz, making it very accessible to a varied audience. While I would have loved to hear some more typically bluesy tunes, this was a great tribute to the style of Coltrane and Hartman, well-controlled by the incredible skills of McCoy Tyner. He loves to play with his audience while playing to us, slowly working towards what feels like an ending, holding a stately pace after some frenetic drum or sax work, then suddenly ending it with his sharp left hand and a little chuckle. The audience laughs too – we know he's holding the strings, and we're delightedly dancing in our seats.
In his incredibly deep voice, he farewells us with a thank you: "This music has kept me going since I was a teenager. I thank God I had the opportunity to do it and be here with you guys. Peace." At 73 years of age, he walks off with a stronger energy than he entered with almost two hours ago, as if he's feeling refreshed. This man is testament to the power of jazz, and we're thankful we could be there with him to share the peaceful passion of his music.
2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival
McCoy Tyner Trio
Venue: Melbourne Town Hall
Date: Sunday 3 June, 2012
Tickets: $119 – $71