The PC forces may not want to hear this, but the porn industry of the 1970s wasn't all bad. It created numerous professional opportunities for artists, and I'm not necessarily talking about Bambi Woods and John Holmes. Writers like Nick Tosches and Sam Shepard helped fill up countless pages in smut magazines with soft-core pieces that flashed their future style, getting paid in the process, while actors such as Spalding Gray and Linda Blair, and director John Avildsen (Rocky) also had career-opening moments involving flesh, fantasy and filthy lucre. They weren't pimped or screwed (over), and their employers came away with cheap, edgy content. Not necessarily art patronage, but it was better than a thankless MFA program or temp job.
By 1974, funky drummer Bernard Purdie didn't need his career opened. He'd backed King Curtis and James Brown, and was the in-house timekeeper for Creed Taylor's famed CTI jazz label. A year later, he'd become Aretha Franklin's musical director. Yet though his hall of fame rep had long been set, the profitable business of film scoring was -- strangely, when you consider the blaxploitation era that made soundtrack stars of Isaac Hayes and Johnny Pate -- closed to him. And so, along came Lialeh -- advertised as the first all-black porn flick, the, ahem, "Shaft of adult movies" -- and opportunity. (Also for its editor Ira Wohl, who'd go on to direct the Oscar-winning documentary Best Boy.)
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As befits a mature, sexy movie, Purdie's brilliantly low-key score eschews speed and eases its way into a groove. Only the closing "Hap'nin'" picks up any sort of funk steam, its trio play between drummer, electric bassist Wilbur Bascomb and Fender Rhodes man Horace Ott a poly-rhythmic booty-slap to behold even before the brass kicks in. Otherwise it's all coy '70s sexiness -- including much moaning by vocalist Sandi Hewitt, and lyrics that seem written only for plot development (sample: "I'm all pink on the inside"). Yet to hear balladic soul-gospel buildups like "Conscious" is to experience that era's most ecstatic sounds, without the protestant shame of its context. One almost wonders why director Steve Soderbergh, whose love scenes often bask in such grooves, didn't rediscover this bad boy for his next Clooney film.