Elmore Judd, Jazz Café, London

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The Independent Culture

Good and bad luck have trailed Elmore Judd's career in equal measure. When the name was an alias for the north London keyboardist Jesse Hackett, his selling of his debut Angel Sounds on the street outside Camden's Rhythm Records saw him invited in to record the follow-up for Honest Jon's. Damon Albarn took him to play in Mali, and last year's Glastonbury saw Elmore Judd, now a full band, collaborating with the great French-Algerian wild man Rachid Taha. All good.

The bad luck came with the making of that second album, Insect Funk, in a Camden warehouse. The environment gave the music a junkyard ambience, where metal pipes were clanged for percussion and anything went. Then vandals torched the place, although the album's multi-tracks were rescued from the ashes.

Tonight, Elmore Judd are one the first bands to play Camden since Saturday night's market fire, bringing music already singed by the place. Perhaps their karma is levelling out.

Unassuming enjoyment is the mood, starting with Hackett, a soul boy in a white panama, and spreading to a small crowd here to dance. On record, his band are heavier on influences – recalling Prince's "Sign O' the Times", George Clinton's lubricious fantasias, brushes of Greek bouzouki, and even The Cure – but fatally light on tunes. Live, it is easier to enjoy diversity that springs from an unusually disparate set of musicians. Hackett is joined by his brother, Louis Slipperz, on synths, striking fat Vangelis chords over Leon de Bretagne's swampy bass and Tom Skinner's shuffling drums. Guitarist Chris Morphitis, credited with the album's Thirties Greek strands, is more interested in African high-life tonight.

Traces of that Camden warehouse remain in Hackett's wooden xylophone, with an undercarriage of medieval-style balls. Enrique Joyette's percussive shakers resemble bloated cacti. "Sometimes, it's a bit hard, it's a struggle," Hackett confesses of the band. If there is a connecting thread, it's that despised Eighties genre jazz-funk, referenced on "Groove Killer" by de Bretagne's slap-bass and Hackett's knowingly clichéd lyrics – "Get down", and worse.

The amateurish pleasure Elmore Judd take in their jury-rigged creation carries them through. Whether playing a "Ghost Town"- style spectral synth on Snakefinger cover "Don't Lie", or letting a long, closing groove build from a bass pulse, flat-line, then climax in Joyette's R&B sobs and Calypso steel drums, this unpredictable broken soul is hard to dislike. But coherence is needed soon.

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