Recommended Podcasts

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This is a quick blog written while in transit with iffy wifi, so links are minimal and the information contained within potentially unreliable.

I don’t know when it happened but at least five or six years ago I became a true podcast aficionado. Podcasts are the ideal mechanism for infovores like me to continually learn about the world as I travel, exercise or simply lie in bed. I find that my professional practice as a researcher and consultant is refreshed and enhanced by what I hear on these shows.

Below is a list of podcasts that I wholeheartedly recommend to others in a similar situation to myself, working in research, or in the arts, or transatlantically, or with an insatiable interest in understanding political and social systems that get only the most cursory examination in the regular news media.

Some of the podcasts here come from major broadcasters, some are from small outfits who are simply a passionate and committed to sharing and exploring, and the rest come from an increasingly important group of Podcast Networks (such as Gimlet or Radiotopia) which may in turn displace and replace the traditional radio broadcast networks.

I’ve grouped them in the following idiosyncratic categories:

  1. Essential for artsy folk
  2. Essential for social sciencey folk
  3. Wonderfully crafted human stories
  4. Sundry delights

1: Essential for artsy folk

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is not just a way to listen to stories from the archive of the New Yorker. It’s a chance to hear from contemporary writers who select, read, and reflect upon a story of their choosing from the archive. They are guided through this process by the sweetly voiced fiction editor at the New Yorker, Deborah Treisman.

The Spectator Books podcast (and there are many just like it from other magazines and newspapers) is part of the carousel of media appearances and interviews that are made by authors of new books in print. Sam Leith makes for a well-informed and impish host, and it’s never overly long.

99 Percent Invisible is a podcast all about design. It is so committed to the principles of good design that the sound-rich and warm tones of the podcast are a delight to listen to. Everything from systems design, architecture, advertising and transport are covered. It’s an insightful and jargon-free way to understand the profound ways in which we are shaped by the world around us.

In Our Time is a public service broadcasting at its best. Host Melvyn Bragg can often get grumpy with his academic guests (specially selected for each show) if they aren’t able to be clear or decisive in what they are saying, but every episode is like a mini-primer on the subject chosen that week. There are interesting episodes on science and technology, but I think it works best when the subject is connected to art, culture, philosophy or history. Dive into the archive.

2: Essential for social sciencey folk

Freakonomics is the podcast brought to you by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the guys behind the Freakonomics books. Despite its puntastic name the show is about all varieties of social science: psychology, anthropology, sociology, and it does a fantastic job of explaining things in a jargon-free way.

The Ezra Klein Show is hosted by the frighteningly young editor of Vox. His instincts and ethics seem to match my own, so his well-crafted 1:1 interviews with politicians, academics, journalists and other assorted eggheads always seem to take a satisfying (if depressing, this is 2017) turn.

Philosophy Bites is the long running project Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds. They do a fantastic job of breaking down complicated philosophical concepts into little bite sized chunks, and they have a helpful habit of beginning every show with a request that the guest explain exactly what they mean by the term or phrase that is the subject under consideration.

Planet Money is the finance and economics show on NPR in the US. Their style is to take a big news story that seems abstract and technical, and show using classic public interest reportage how it plays out in the everyday lives of people making or selling goods and services around the world.

Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. Okay, so not everyone in sociology likes Malcolm Gladwell. I get that. But his popularising of social science findings in the New Yorker and his best-selling books means that his methods and style are always worth observing. The podcast features plenty of ‘Gladwellian’ counterintuitive takes on social norms and human quirks.

More Or Less is a vital part of any podcast list for those of us who care about facts and evidence. It debunks myths, picks apart headlines and generally holds bullshitters to account. It’s got to the stage where some items in the show end up being informed by previous episodes… because zombie stats refuse to die. Despite this, it seems all involved in the programme refuse to become cynical misanthropists. Miracles do happen.

3: Wonderfully crafted human stories

This American Life is probably most British people’s entry point into podcasts. It’s another from the NPR stable, and I believe it’s now syndicated on BBC radio. Each week the producers pick a theme, and bring you a set of stories on that theme. It’s always compassionate and always captivating. As with all great narrative journalism, the show does a fabulous job of revealing the ways in which people are shaped by (and in turn shape) the society in which they live.

Reply All is hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, whose infectious love for tech and each other means that every show is a hoot. The podcast is essentially about technology, computers and the internet. There’s enough techie talk to keep your geeky needs satisfied, but what it really excels at is explaining the technological systems and economies that shape our everyday lives that few of us ever see and even fewer understand.

Heavyweight is hosted by Jonathan Goldstein, who has taken the same format he used for CBC’s Wiretap (which frequently had segments syndicated on This American Life) and let it blossom in laconic style to create this podcast about life’s failures and regrets.

4: Sundry delights

From Our Own Correspondent is Kate Adie’s round-up of short news stories from overlooked and under-reported parts of the world. Savage Lovecast is all the therapy you need for your love life and personal ethics. The Weeds is a policy discussion show that is sufficiently wonky for my hyper-wonky tastes. The Totally Football Show is where the jovial and cosmopolitan James Richardson has taken his puns and football chatter after years with the Guardian. Little Atoms is a reliable podcast for bringing on some of the more far-out and provocative thinkers passing through the media circus. The World in Time is Lewis Lapham’s podcast, which often feels like a bookish fireside chat with Great Uncle Lewis. Page 94 is the Private Eye podcast, which tends to go deeper than the magazine on investigative matters.

What did I miss?

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A Draft Service Menu

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I’m putting this online to see what people think. I’d love to refine this in light of any feedback. It’s sometimes quite difficult to know what consultants actually do for a living! This is what I think I do:

James Doeser Service Menu: June 2017

Here is a menu of services that I offer as a freelance consultant. Essentially, my time and output tends to be valuable in two ways: I provide a corpus of knowledge (‘what works’, who is doing cool stuff, etc.) whilst also bringing an analytical mindset (testing, questioning, teasing). All of this is presented in a compelling and robust (yet jargon-free) package, whether that’s a presentation, workshop or written report.

Any and all of the tasks below can involve a short consultation and small amount of remedial work, or an in-depth commission lasting many months.

Getting Data-Smart

1. You’ve got data

Maybe you’re sitting on survey data, box-office data, financial data, or something similar. You’ve been collecting it but not taking advantage of its insights.

My contribution: I can audit what you have, straighten it out, analyse it, benchmark it against other sources, and present it back to you in an attractive dashboard and/or short written report.

2. You’re data-hungry

You want to gather all the relevant data for your forthcoming project or report. Maybe you’d like to evaluate and benchmark your work, and you need to start with a baseline (or at least set some reasonable targets).

My contribution: I can assemble a basket of relevant data and present its story to provide a robust picture of the landscape.

Getting Strategic

3. From idea to action

You are just starting out, you have a bright idea for a new programme of work or a new project. You need help putting it into operation.

My contribution: I can work with you to devise a Project Plan, develop a Theory of Change, map out potential audiences, stakeholders and partners.

4. Refining mission, goals and objectives

You’ve got an idea, you’ve got a plan, but you aren’t sure if it’s going to stand the test of time and whether it all really fits together. You’re looking for an independent ‘critical friend’ to make sure it’s robust enough to withstand scrutiny.

My contribution: I can work with you to ‘stress test’ the approach you propose, to sharpen your objectives and ensure that your approach is going to yield the results you’re after.

Knowing What Works

5. Learn from the best

Whatever new programme or project you are developing, it’s likely that someone elsewhere in the world (or elsewhere in history) has attempted something similar. Why not take advantage of their experience, repeat their successes and avoid their mistakes?

My contribution: I will undertake a rapid review of all known research and activity underway globally to package up in a straightforward way the insights that identify key success factors and pitfalls to avoid.

6. Change the world

Perhaps you want to educate, inform or entertain? Every programme of work or project seeks to change the world in some way. The work that you do is only one part of the story. You need to know that your project will have the desired impact and not be blown off course by other things going on in people’s lives.

My contribution: I can work with you to fully understand what change you are seeking to make, and help refine your plan so that it takes account of all known research to really deliver that change as effectively as possible.

7. Be a learning organisation

You want to be the best at what you do. Evaluation can be a daunting task, yet it is essential to understand the impact that your organisation is making, as well as accounting for the impact of other people’s investment in you.

My contribution: After learning about your work and its purpose, I can design and conduct/commission an appropriate evaluation (tailored to your needs), I can subsequently help you digest its findings and disseminate the learning more widely.

Joining forces

8. Find the experts

You have allies and insightful people at your disposal, even if you don’t realise it. Who has published the most important studies that are relevant for you and your work? Which organisations are busy pursuing the same goals as you?

My contribution: I can scan the world to find the most appropriate experts to team up with, I can present you with their key insights and seek to broker future collaborations with them.

Getting funded

9. Public sector, trusts and foundations

You need money. What are your prospects for applying to the likes of the Arts Council, Local Authorities and other independent grant-giving agencies? This is an increasingly competitive world. Crucially, many funders don’t simply give money for activity, they want to see measurable outcomes.

My contribution: I can advise on the best approach to project design and the vocabulary to use to ensure your work aligns with their goals. Beyond this, I can draft (or merely edit/advise upon) the text of your funding application(s).

10. Corporate sponsorship and private giving

You still need money. Approaching corporate sponsors and private individuals can be a daunting process. For some organisations, it is about offering a glamorous antidote to corporate life, while for others it is about a route to social justice and community impact.

My contribution: Together we can devise a prospectus for corporate sponsors, and think critically about how to tell the story of your organisation in way that is compelling for potential donors.

Spreading the word

11. Review and refresh

Your website, programme notes, annual reports etc. all say something about your work and your values. It can be hard to convey these in a powerful way that is authentic to the complex artistic work you do. Establishing an institutional voice and tone can be a challenge.

My contribution: I can review all your communications material and together we can sharpen up the prose to make it powerful and distinctive whilst retaining an essential authenticity.

12. Generate killer copy

You want to get the word out there, to the opinion-formers and decision-makers. An essential task of all arts and culture organisations is keeping the world abreast of your most recent work, its qualities, and the difference that you make in the world. This involves more than just writing your latest programme of events or brochure for next year.

My contribution: I can write compelling and intelligent copy about your work that is jargon-free. This can for the basis for annual reports, case-studies, website or social media content. Together, we can pitch articles to the trade press and other media outlets.

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Culture Manifestos for GE2017

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I am back in Public Service Mode. No deprecating commentary this time, just the links.

Here is an assortment of manifestos prepared by UK arts and culture folks in advance of the 2017 General Election. Please notify me of any missing ones.

The Heritage Alliance

Creative Industries Federation

Museums Association

Cultural Learning Alliance

UK Music

National Campaign for the Arts

National Society for Education in Art and Design

One Dance UK

UK Theatre and Society Of London Theatre

Music Venue Trust

Bob and Roberta Smith

Royal Shakespeare Company

Culture Counts (with a Scotland perspective)

P-A-R-T-Y

Once all the political party manifestos are out I’ll be pitching to the usual places with my take on them as an assemblage. Here are the the main ones:

Labour and Conservative and Liberal Democrat and there is literally nothing worthwhile or interesting to say about them.

Meanwhile, go and depress yourself by reading Democracy for Realists by Achen and Bartels.

 

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Data Portals in Art and Culture

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Introduction

There have been many attempts to visualise arts and cultural data. This blogpost is a mini anthology of data portals, visualisation outputs and widgets that attempt to help people understand, analyse and generally enjoy what data exists about arts and culture. I am predominantly interested in tools that allow people to intuitively and visually play with and understand data. Catalogues and directories are useful, but not the holy grail for me.

The focus is on the UK, though I have tried to include interesting examples from around the world. I am not a technical expert – not a programmer or a designer. However, I make a living out of translating research and analysis for an arty audience (who are rarely stats or data savvy). I offer some modest reflections (+ve and –ve on each of the resources).

If there are any that you think I have missed, or have misrepresented, then please do get in touch through the usual channels. This rough set of notes is part of a suite of inputs that I am using with friends at King’s College London to develop a cultural data portal for the UK. I would love your thoughts. This is a live page and I’m updating it in response to feedback.

What do we mean by cultural data?

For me, arts and cultural data comes under three main headings: people, places and things. Let me elaborate:

  • Data about people relates to: cultural workers, attendees, participants, volunteers, donors.
  • Data about places relates to: organisations and institutions (their income, their art forms, their expenditure), locations like towns and cities (what assets they have, how money flows through the arts in those places) etc.
  • Data about things relates to: objects in collections, public art, plays, performances and concerts.

Across all three data types there are frequently common dimensions like time and place.

I’ve tried to split up the various sites that currently serve as data portals according to some basic functions. The more feedback I get, the better I think I understand how to categorise them:

National/general arts and culture data portals

National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture

http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NADAC/

nadac

This is based at the University of Michigan and is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts as a way to fulfill their ambitions to open up public access to arts and cultural data in the United States. It’s a successor to CPANDA (which was based at Princeton University).

+ves: contains a lot of data and research reports, is great to see government agencies in the US support public access to data it collects

-ves: it takes many steps to reach the specific data that you are looking for, the presentation of the data is rather unattractive and expects a high level of stats knowledge

Sustain Arts

http://sustainarts.org/

sustain

Another resource from the US. A collaboration between Fractured Atlas, Foundation Center and Harvard University. Currently with three localities available to explore: Bay Area, Detroit and Chicago. No registration needed, just dive right in to the data.

+ves: it’s a simple design (if a bit blocky) and serves up the main data sets that are available to people interested in the cultural lives of these localities, no expertise needed!

-ves: it’s a bit slow and buggy on my computer, allows for people to dive in and out of data types but not weave them together or across each other

Specific survey analysis tools

Taking Part Data Analysis Tool

https://public.tableau.com/profile/taking.part.survey#!/vizhome/Dataanalysistools-Home/TakingPartSurvey

Taking Part

Taking Part is a long-running survey of adult and child participation and attendance in art and culture (as well as heritage, archives and sport). It’s sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the UK and its arms-length bodies (including the Arts Council). This Tableau interface is a successor to the defunct (more comprehensive, though quite unwieldy) NetQuest tool.

+ves: presents a set of basic variables in a straightforward way

-ves: makes very little use of the rich multiplicity of analysis that could be done with the data

DataShine

http://datashine.org.uk

Data Shine

Not an arts and culture portal, but an essential accompaniment. DataShine is the product of the CASA lab at UCL and presents a variety of the data from the 2011 Census using a heat map of the United Kingdom. Because the census is a population-wide study, it permits the display of highly detailed data at a very specific geographic location.

+ves: the visually rich and colourful display is quite attractive, the types of data that you can display are the right essential variables

-ves: the depth and amount of data is almost overwhelming, and sometimes the display takes a while to load and adjust.

Audience Finder & Dashboard

https://audiencefinder.org/

Audience Finder

Audience Finder is a grand concoction of hundreds of box office and ticketing databases from different arts and cultural organisations all around the country. For example, it allows for the identification of overlapping audiences between different theatres and concert halls. Versions of the vast data set are available to everyone. The data is usually displayed in a dashboard format (and mapping of audience data is also a feature).

+ves: the dashboard interface is nice and simple to use, and does not demand a huge amount of technical expertise

-ves: it can take a while to get access to the data that you really want, it’s not a quick in-and-out experience.

Data Arts

http://culturaldata.org/

Data Arts

Data Arts is the successor to the Cultural Data Project, based out of Philadelphia. Like Audience Finder, it’s a subscription service for arts and cultural organisations that allows for data benchmarking of their own box office or audience data against their peers and other public data sets.

+ves: [same as Audience Finder]

-ves: [same as Audience Finder]

Arts Council Cultural Education Data Portal

http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/research-and-data/children-and-young-people

CEDP

A collection of statistics from public sources that are relevant to the world of cultural education. It is an evolution from the Local Data Profiles that were developed as part of the Culture and Sport Evidence Programme back in 2010. The interface is a simple patchwork of tiles with data that is automatically populated depending upon which Local Authority is selected from the drop-down menu at the top of the page

+ves: simple interface that is easy to navigate

-ves: doesn’t allow for cross-comparison or benchmarking outside of the confines of specific geographies

Individual datasets rendered in portals

Nesta Museums Map

https://nestauk.github.io/museumsmap/

Museums Map

The Nesta Museums Map is an interface that plots the location of every ‘Accredited Museum’ that’s within the Accreditation scheme overseen by Arts Council England. They’ve also been able to add in population data (density and deprivation levels) as extra things to display and explore.

+ves: this is a nice and simple ‘added value’ interface that takes existing data that was available in a spreadsheet and plots it geographically, the interface is nice and easy to explore.

-ves: ‘Accredited museums’ represent only part of the total number of museums in England. However, arriving at a comprehensive list or database is quite a challenge!

Digital Culture Data Portal

http://nesta2015.omnisis.co.uk/Home/Public

 

Digital Culture

This is a relatively simple interface that displays data from the Digital Culture Surveys that the Arts Council have sponsored, and which were undertaken by the research agency MTM.

+ves: good that a data set like this can be explored online

-ves: not a wonderfully user-friendly or attractive interface

Artists Revenue Streams (Future of Music Coalition research)

http://arsdata.futureofmusic.org/

ARSDP

This is an interface that allows users to play around with a data set that was generated through the Artists Revenue Streams research from 2011. It’s a really rich and visually engaging way to let people explore a data set and its many variables. Could it provide a model for the Artists Livelihoods project that the Arts Council sponsored last year?

+ves: instantly delivers a rich variety of information on a single page, nice design (despite the busyness of the page)

-ves: doesn’t link to other data sets that would be relevant to the questions and variables that are displayed in the portal

Spacefinder

http://philly.spacefinder.org/spaces (e.g. Philadelphia)

This is a bridge between the maps above and the catalogues below. Created by the guys at Fractured Atlas. They say: “Through the SpaceFinder program, Fractured Atlas is increasing visibility of rental options, helping artists find the space they need, and helping venues promote and rent their spaces”

Catalogues

Open Inheritance Art UK

http://Openiart.uk

oiart

This is a new online portal that allows people to search and browse artwork which has been subject to the inheritance in lieu of tax scheme in the UK (which exempts art from inheritance tax on the basis that it will be available for public viewing). These works often remain in private collections behind closed doors and only available for viewing by appointment, at the owner’s convenience.

+ves: the categories on the home page are nice and easy to navigate, it’s great that someone has gone to the effort of putting this data online

-ves: the results served up by searches seem without much coherence or order, they are simply lists, why not have a map?

Art UK

https://artuk.org/

artuk

A catalogue that ostensibly will one day have every work of art on public display (and storage?) contained within it. Maybe it does already?

+ves: it has lots of fun routes through the data and art work collections

-ves: it’s not actually much of a useful tool for analysis of the collections or comparing X with Y

Many similar things exist in the form of:

Europeana http://www.europeana.eu/portal/en

Digital Public Library of America https://dp.la/

Open Culture http://www.openculture.com/

Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/

Artsy https://www.artsy.net/

And many yet more specialist databases of cultural stuff:

e.g. OCRE http://numismatics.org/ocre/ (for fans of Roman coinage)

Open Data Portals

Geographic (eg LA County is particularly advanced)

https://data.lacounty.gov/browse?category=Community&utf8=%E2%9C%93

There are an increasing number of Open Data Portals that act as repositories for data and data sets that can pertain to arts and cultural investments and assets in particular localities. They are frequently just data files (excel or csv) with singe sheets that relate to one or two connected variables. They are especially common in the US but are becoming increasingly common in the UK.

CultureHack

http://data.culturehack.org.uk/

Have their own extensive directory of open data relevant to the culture sector.

Data.World

https://data.world/search?q=art&type=dataset

Is another all-encompassing directory with some artsy stuff in there (see link above with results served up after a search for ‘art’)

Museum APIs

http://museum-api.pbworks.com/w/page/21933420/Museum%C2%A0APIs

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are efficient ways to get hold of data in a one-off or recurring way from particular data providers or data owners. The above link is a collection of APIs that are relevant to those working in the museums and galleries sectors.

Previous expertise on this from Tony Hirst

https://blog.ouseful.info/2012/06/01/practical-visualisation-tools-presentation-caseprog/

Time to confess: I have form when it comes to data visualisation and arts and cultural data. Back in 2012 I worked with colleagues at the DCMS and its arms-length bodies to develop better ways to display cultural data as part of the Culture and Sport Evidence (CASE) Programme. I brought in Tony Hirst (an expert in open data and visualisation) to brief us on what was possible and feasible. The above link is the best route in to a selection of pages on his site which show what could and can be done with the CASE data.

It’s curious to me that there was a big blast of attention put to this sort of thing around five years ago. E.g. these (slightly moribund) sites are from that era:

http://www.museum-analytics.org/ (“an online platform for sharing and discussing information about museums and their audiences”)

Overall thoughts

It still seems difficult to display statistical data pertaining to arts and culture in an intuitive and attractive way, that retains an authentic link to the strengths and shortcomings of the original data sets. In developing the portal with King’s I want to ensure that the best design principles that we used to build CultureCase.org (high-quality search, simple design, zero expectation of expertise) are also deployed in the data portal.

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A jazz playlist for Ben

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I am not a jazz fanatic, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I was asked to put together a playlist for a friend of mine, in order to tempt him to the genre (if jazz is such a thing). All art suffers from the tyranny of taxonomy. Music more so than any other art form. Yet jazz is about transcending these things. Poor old jazz.

Any credentials I possess are partial and particular. I love Gilles Peterson and Late Junction on BBC Radio. I occasionally hang out at Cafe Oto in Dalston. I am a proud owner of a HMV102 Gramophone and a number of 78s that put the structural integrity of my flat at risk. Hipster, moi? So this is the jazz playlist that I have put together. It follows a roughly chronological order. It is not meant to be comprehensive in any way. Just a selection of tunes that I like, and that I think you will like, that all fall (in one way or another) under the classification of “jazz”.

Two other, superior tour guides in the cathedral of jazz lie at your disposal. One is Eric Hobsbawm and the other is Ken Burns. Read them, watch them, soak in their storytelling delight. These two sages of olde, along with my playlist, hopefully capture at least some of  jazz’s origins, main points of juncture and development, while along the way hinting at where it has cannibalised from other musics and (in turn) other musics have taken from jazz. You’ll hopefully recognise a sample or two.

Many of these tunes will be familiar to you. No apologies about that. The heavy presence of that cool, 50s and 60s jazz, is because so much of this music is a soundtrack to an imagined life. A life which is urban, nocturnal, curious and without anything close to a thudding metronome. Sometimes the imagined becomes real, either by design or accident. That’s when this really works. Enjoy:

https://open.spotify.com/user/jamesdoeser/playlist/6Y7cCieOA1FzzGnv2VJfBm

All The Jazz Band Ball – Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang
Begin The Beguine – Artie Shaw & His Orchestra
Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman
Si tu vois ma mère – Slow – Sidney Bechet, Claude Luter et son orchestre
Strange Fruit – 1939 Single version – Billie Holiday
Ain’t Misbehavin – Django Reinhardt – Quintette Du Hot Club De France
La Vie En Rose – Single Version – Louis Armstrong
So What – Miles Davis
Moanin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
‘Round Midnight – Miles Davis
Look For The Silver Lining – Chet Baker
Blue in Green – Miles Davis
Peace Piece – Bill Evans
Take Five – Dave Brubeck
Bitches Brew – Miles Davis, Mark Wilder
Unsquare Dance – Dave Brubeck
Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock
Holy Thursday – David Axelrod
Watermelon Man – Herbie Hancock
Think Twice – Donald Byrd
Yèkèrmo Sèw (A Man of Experience and Wisdom) – Mulatu Astatke
Music For A Found Harmonium – Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Take Me To The Mardi Gras – Bob James
Shine It – Medeski, Martin & Wood