Recorded in 1982, “Vigilante” is released at the verge of Fania’s meltdown the following year. Intended as the soundtrack for the movie with the same name where Willie plays a ruthless gang member named Rico Meléndez, this project pairs him again with his compadre and former singer Héctor Lavoe. In fact, it was put on hold by Fania Records because of the label’s pushing of yet another movie involving Colón: Fania’s own The Last Fight, Masucci’s last daring gambit and the one that almost cost him the salsa empire they built during the 1970s. ...MORE >
Recorded in 1982, “Vigilante” is released at the verge of Fania’s meltdown the following year. Intended as the soundtrack for the movie with the same name where Willie plays a ruthless gang member named Rico Meléndez, this project pairs him again with his compadre and former singer Héctor Lavoe. In fact, it was put on hold by Fania Records because of the label’s pushing of yet another movie involving Colón: Fania’s own The Last Fight, Masucci’s last daring gambit and the one that almost cost him the salsa empire they built during the 1970s.
The presentation of the project, although pushing the movie starring Fred Williamson and Robert Forster, also appealed to listeners’ nostalgia by pairing the ruthless salsa duo that front-lined during the early 1970s salsa explosion. In addition, Willie returns, albeit briefly, to the old gangster image of his younger days in this movie, which is thoroughly captured in the arresting artwork on the cover, depicted with Ron Levine’s flaming gun front and center and the salsa icons’ photos on the top left in Hollywood-esque fashion. The music on the album adds to the whole aura, with Colón’s traditional early 1970s sound updated here, the depiction of yet another ruthless gangster’s story on the main single, and Willie himself virtually narrating the movie’s story on the title track. Yet there was a lot more going on when this four-track album was recorded.
By this album’s release date in 1983, Lavoe was back to his deadly love/hate affair with drug addiction. Although he had not released a formal album since 1981, he was still considered a top priority at Fania, (he even gets a cameo role playing himself in The Last Fight. But as his career faces dire problems, thanks to his self-destructive behavior, the label decides to look for a boost by teaming him up with his former employer Colón, still the label’s biggest seller at the time.
Colón, on the other hand, was overloaded with work and facing his own déjà vu, as his six-year partnership with Rubén Blades came to a bitter end. Although here Willie concentrates his efforts on just singing and directing (leaving the trombone work to the virtuoso team of Leopoldo Pineda and Lewis Kahn and the arranging in to the very capable hands of Luís Cruz and Héctor Garrido, his sound is preserved throughout this album. Yet, he deliberately takes a backseat here, letting his beloved comrade-in-arms shine all the way through.
“Triste y Vacia” opens the album with Hector in fine form and an augmented chorus line narrating the story of a woman marked by sorrow, betrayal and bad luck. The title track, Willie’s own shot at movie score composing, becomes a lengthy vehicle for guest soloists George Wadenius on guitar and Morris Goldberg on soprano sax, with Jimmy Delgado stealing some of the spotlight with his spicy fills. The second half of the album has Tite Curet Alonso’s signature all over it. “Juanito Alimaña” is the top single here (which was recently sampled almost entirely by rapper Julio Voltio for his own Julito Maraña), with Lavoe adding the sparks on his ad-libbing, especially when announcing the funeral of Pedro Navaja (a subliminal hint). Another very lengthy track,” Pasé La Noche Fumando” brings in the third musketeer, cuatro legend Yomo Toro, for a stunning cameo performance.
Although not one of the brightest gems of this legendary duo’s discography, “Vigilante” still has its own particular aura and brilliance. If it didn’t necessarily work as the intended movie soundtrack it was, this album definitely helped get Hector Lavoe’s own discography back on track with two strong hits, while giving Willie Colón the well-deserved breathing room for his own strong comeback—without losing his grip.
Leopoldo Pineda – Lead Trombone
Lewis Kahn – Trombone
Luís López – Trombone (“Vigilante”)
Milton Cardona – Congas
Johnny Almendra – Timbales
Jimmy Delgado – Bongo
Prof. Joe Torres – Piano
Sal Cuevas – Bass
Jorge Maldonado – Maracas, Güiro
Yomo Toro – Cuatro (“Vigilante”, “Pase La Noche Fumando”)
Morris Goldberg – Soprano Saxophone (“Vigilante”)
George Wodenius – Guitar (“Vigilante”)
Harold Kohon’s Ensemble – Strings (“Vigilante”)
Producer – Willie Colón
Recording Director – Jon Fausty
Mixing – Willie Colón, Jon Fausty
Arrangements – Hector Garrido (“Triste y Vacia”, “Vigilante”), Luis Cruz (“Juanito Alimaña”, “Pase la Noche Fumando”)
Original Album Design – Ron Levine