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.)
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.