Snapshot of two national treasures at play: the impeccable Michael Houstoun performing the music from jazz pianist Mike Nock’s “Inland” album on a Steinway at the recent Wellington Jazz Festival. Seated on-stage, eyes closed, head nodding and oblivious to the audience, Nock was lost in reverie as Houstoun’s virtuoso hands interpreted his music a mere yard away. Houstoun’s playing was even-tempered, astonishingly accurate in the glittering complexity of the ascending and descending jazz runs. The warmth and humour in Nock’s picturesque melodies were beautifully conveyed back to the composer sitting at his shoulder. Watching the two master musicians interacting was a performance piece of special significance and spoke volumes about how music can reach us and teach us.

Nock’s jazz and Houstoun’s classical accents evaporated; musical dialects were kicked for touch and the  aesthetics of their diverse musical styles were blended in a moment of sheer grace. As the barriers between high and low art lay in tatters on the stage-floor both musicians were wrapped in a blanket of intimacy and joy which reminded us in the audience that our differences are dissipated, our humanity restored, when Great Art is at work.

In the “needing time” as every news report takes us deeper into the darkest of voids, the good news is that music still has the power to lift us up. Master musicians of all genres demonstrate how our differences can be embraced and celebrated. Watching Dhafer Youssef at the Wellington Festival – his Muslim inflected phrygian melodies draping around the batteried rhythms of his Japanese drummer, the European elegance of his Polish piano player and the stoicism of his Canadian bassist it was easy to imagine a world where chasms of difference and indifference had been crossed. There was the same sense of redemption watching Roberto Fonseca and his free spirited Cuban band. Even in the midst of chaos, our world is still whole. Great music revives the spirit and gives us hope.