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Dimitrios "Milo" Kurtis

Milo Kurtis, born August 5, 1951, in Zgorzelec as Dimitrios Kourtis, is a Polish musician of Greek origin. He is one of the most recognizable and original musicians and composers in Poland. Ethnic instruments from different parts of the world are his great passion. He has played with leading artists of the Polish music scene (groups Voo Voo, Izrael, Osjan and others) and co-created countless artistic projects. He describes himself as a Polish Greek. He is strongly connected to Mediterranean culture.

First steps on the music scene

In the years 1949–1951, after the end of the civil war in Greece, a wave of Greek political refugees came to Poland. Milo Kurtis was born into such a refugee family. He grew up in refugee camps. His nickname, which would later become the musician’s artistic pseudonym, comes from this period. “Milo” means “apple” in Greek – as little Dimitrios was known to like this fruit very much.

Milo Kurtis took his first steps in the musical world already in the 60s as a member of a Greek folk band. With this group he won an award during the Festival of Greek Musical Groups in Poland. However, the way to his career was opened by another group established in the late 60s and early 70s – Grupa w Składzie: with which he was creating “intuitive music” (so-called yass), based on mutual communication between the band members. Group’s compositions were presented during the Warsaw Autumn and Jazz nad Odrą (Jazz on the Odra River) festivals.

In Grupa w Składzie: Milo Kurtis played bassoon, double bass, keyboards and bouzouki. The band also featured Jacek Malicki “Krokodyl” (guitar, bamboo flute, cymbals) and Andrzej Kasprzyk (saxophone, flute). The formation performed mainly in the Warsaw club Sigma, as well as in Repassage and Galeria El in Elbląg.

Grupa w Składzie: cooperated with conceptual artists and participated in various artistic projects. The group’s work referred to the music of John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen or the Fluxus group. The formation was suspended in 1975 (in the same year Kurtis co-founded the legendary group Maanam and joined Osjan). However, this was not the final end of the musician’s first band. In 2008 the group was reactivated in its original line-up, additionally joining Witold Popiel. In 2013, an album with the recording of the concert at the Contemporary Art Centre in Kalisz was released.

Osjan, Maanam, Voo Voo

Before the musicians of Grupa w Składzie: suspended their activity, Milo Kurtis, parallel to the activities with this band, founded the group Ya-Sou in 1972. The band was playing songs inspired by ethnic and folk music. However, it was 1975 that proved to be a real breakthrough in Kurtis’ career. It was the year when first “cell” of the cult rock band Maanam was formed – for the time being as a guitar duo of Kurtis and Marek Jackowski, under the name “M-a-M”. In that short period of time the group was playing music with an oriental feel. Soon, Jackowski’s wife Kora joined the band and Jackowski himself left his other group, Osjan (Ossian), in which he had played for the last 5 years. In 1976, Milo Kurtis said goodbye to Maanam to take Jackowski’s place in Ossian.

The band Ossian played music which we could describe as a mix of folk, improvised music and world music. In 1978 the album “Ossian” was released – the second album of the band, and the first one with Milo Kurtis. In January 1979 came the next album, “The Book of Clouds”, recorded with violinist Zygmunt Kaczmarski and drummer Radosław Nowakowski.

On May 31, 1980 Osjan performed at the 5th Jazz Music Festival. The concert was recorded and released on an album, again (for the third time) titled “Ossian”. The fans had to wait over two years for the next studio album though – it was released in December 1982 and was entitled “Roots”. It was the last album recorded in the 80s by Osjan with Kurtis as a member. The musician left the group in 1986, when he realized his plan to move to the USA. However, he did not abandon it forever…

Before Kurtis left Poland, he took part in creating other cult groups of the Polish music scene. He co-founded reggae band Izrael (they played together in 1983–1985 and released two albums), co-worked with punk rock band Deuter, played with Tomasz Stańko, and finally played in the first line-up of Voo Voo.

In Voo Voo Milo Kurtis played percussion instruments and trumpet. The first line-up also included Wojciech Waglewski, Andrzej Nowicki (bass guitar) and Wojciech Morawski (drums), who was soon replaced by Marek Czapelski. It was in this configuration that the band debuted in 1986 at Jarocin Festival and recorded their first album. Voo Voo’s music is a combination of rock and folk from all over the world. The musicians have never shied away from improvisation.

11 years in USA – and back to homeland

Milo Kurtis’ first adventure with Voo Voo did not last long. In 1986, the artist left for the USA. There, he was also involved in numerous musical projects and played a wide variety of music – from rock through folk and ethnic music to free jazz. At first Kurtis lived in New York, but later moved to Berkeley, California.

After 11 years, Kurtis returned to Poland – and almost immediately went on with various music projects. In December 1996 he organized a concert dedicated to the memory of late Don Cherry – trumpeter, co-founder of free jazz genre. Kurtis (then with the group Osjan) played together with Cherry in 1983 during the Jazz Jamboree. The 1996 concert became a great pretext to reactivate the group Osjan. Milo Kurtis invited Tomasz Stańko and Osjan’s musicians to the event, and two pieces by Cherry were later included on the album “Yá-sou feat. Tomasz Stańko, Osjan – Tribute To Don Cherry.”

Cooperation with Osjan flourished again. In 1998, the next album of the group with Kurtis was released – “Muzyka fruwającej ryby.” After a little longer break, in 2005, the band served fans a two-CD release – “The Book of Leaves”/ ”The Ossian Tree”. “Księga liści” contains recordings from the concert which took place in 2004 in Radio Kielce studio. The second CD, “Drzewo Osjan”, is made of recordings of groups and projects connected with musicians forming Osjan and bands like Monodrum, Drum Freaks and Voo Voo, in which Nowakowski, Kurtis and Waglewski performed.

Milo Kurtis' musical journeys

After returning to Poland, Milo Kurtis not only reactivated Osjan, but also came up with a new musical idea – a group called Drum Freaks. The band is an open project to which Kurtis invites various musicians from Poland and abroad, including USA, African countries or Greece. Drum Freaks’ music is referred to as “open music” because it is open to all musical influences from different cultures. It is a fusion of ethnic music, jazz, electronic and classical music. Milo Kurtis describes Drum Freaks concerts as “a journey around the brain.”

In 2000 the album “Live” by Drum Freaks featuring David Saucedo Valle, Janusz “Yanina” Iwański, Piotr Iwicki and Włodzimierz Kiniorski was released. Three years later the group (consisting of Milo Kurtis, Wallis Buchanan, Mateusz Pospieszalski, Janusz “Yanina” Iwański) released the album “ƩMYPNH.”

Kurtis’ next project was the Naxos Quintet, a group combining Greek, Jewish, Arabic and Polish music with jazz and contemporary music. In 2014, the group released an album entitled “Journey Around the Brain”. The album strongly refers to Kurtis’ Greek roots, but not only – it contains musical elements from different regions of the Mediterranean, from the Balkans to the Levant. The music of Naxos Quintet can be described as a combination of world music/ethnic music with soft jazz, rock and pop. Among their songs one can find something to dance to as well as something to meditate, reflect and relax. Greek, Middle Eastern and Slavic motifs are clearly marked and skillfully intertwined with other musical styles.

On May 10, 2015, the Naxos Orchestra played a unique concert at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. The event was recorded and released as the band’s second album, “Naxos Orchestra Live at Polin – Coexist”.

MILO Ensemble – the next musical step