Many male schlock fans of a cer­tain age smile at the men­tion of the name Laura Gemser.  This is because many of them spent a good chunk of their teenage years watch­ing her in the Black Emanuelle (*) film series, a string of films that cap­i­tal­ized on the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Emmanuelle to cre­ate its own run­ning sto­ry­line of a glo­be­trot­ting pho­to­jour­nal­ist whose trav­els are always filled with erotic escapades.  Several of the­se film were main­stays of “Skinemax” pro­gram­ming and entranced count­less future schlock­ma­ni­acs with their T&A-filled Eurosleaze trav­el­ogues.  It also helped that direc­tor Joe D’Amato knew how to give it all a love­ly visu­al gloss — and the occa­sion­al ele­ment of kink or shock that would leave the view­er with their jaw hang­ing.

However, Ms. Gemser and D’Amato’s knack for cre­at­ing well-pho­tographed sleaze wasn’t the only appeal­ing ele­ment in the­se films.  They also had amaz­ing sound­tracks by Italian com­poser Nico Fidenco.  The music for a typ­i­cal Black Emanuelle entry wasn’t the typ­i­cal, gener­ic porno-funk asso­ci­at­ed with this era of sex­ploita­tion film­mak­ing — it offered a mix­ture of sump­tu­ous orches­tra­tion, lounge-inflect­ed melod­i­cism and exot­i­ca ele­ments that aid­ed the films tremen­dous­ly in cre­at­ing their dis­tinc­tive style.  Long after the illic­it thrill of the images fade away, those lush sounds linger in the mem­o­ry.

Black Emanuelle’s Groove cher­ry-picks the finest sound­track cues from Fidenco’s scores for four of the D’Amato/Gemser col­lab­o­ra­tions.  This music is exot­i­ca in the best sense of the term – com­poser Nico Fidenco had a knack for weld­ing the region­al quirks and unusu­al instru­ments of many cul­tures to irre­sistible pop melodies.  For instance, “Samba Safari” welds a mock-Hawaiian melody that could have been plucked from a Lawrence Welk album (com­plete with kitsch-jazz horns) over a throb­bing bed of Brazilian-sound­ing per­cus­sion.

And Fidenco is as skilled at arrang­ing his mate­ri­al as he is at com­pos­ing it.  For instance, “Emanuelle In America Sweet,’ “Sweet’s Variations” and “Spellbound” are all rearrange­ments of the same the­me but each sounds rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent – the first is a moody erotic piece that builds to a dra­mat­ic fin­ish, the sec­ond is a funky shuf­fle with icy strings glid­ing over its top and the last is a spooky sus­pense builder that wrings plen­ty of ten­sion from synths and Spaghetti-west­ern gui­tar riffs. The com­bi­na­tion of ambi­tious gen­re-bend­ing and Fidenco’s musi­cal chops adds up a son­ic trav­el­ogue that takes you to far-off places while still pro­vid­ing enough melod­ic hooks to ensure you still feel at home.

The only real flaws with this col­lec­tion are that it doesn’t cov­er all of the Black Emanuelle films  and it most­ly avoids the film’s vocal-ori­ent­ed the­me songs (the omis­sion of the vocal ver­sion of “A Picture Of Love,” which sounds like the best Abba song that Abba nev­er record­ed, is a real loss).  That said, the album offers a strong col­lec­tion of mate­ri­al and is skill­ful­ly pro­grammed for a smooth, lounge-y lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence.  If you’re look­ing an entry point into the world of exotic 1970’s Italian sound­tracks, Black Emanuelle’s Groove is a great place to begin your jour­ney.

(*) Note: the omis­sion of the sec­ond ‘m’ in Black Emanuelle isn’t a typo.  The pro­duc­ers pre­sum­ably did this on pur­pose to avoid copy­right infringement/plagiarism law­suits