The Nth Power has Vermont roots in guitarist/vocalist Nick Cassarino, and might not exist were it not for another Vermont expat, Jennifer Hartswick. But the band arose in New Orleans and its mastermind is acclaimed drummer Nikki Glaspie, who also plays in Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. Glaspie had come off a five-year run as Beyoncé's drummer when she joined up with Cassarino in 2012, then the guitarist for the Jennifer Hartswick Band. Glaspie sat in on a gig with the JHB at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and brought along her pals Nigel Hall on vocals and keys and Nate Edgar on bass. By the end of the show, they knew they were on to something.
The four Ns — Nikki, Nick, Nigel and Nate; hence the Nth Power — soon rounded out their explosive, multicultural funk with the addition of West African percussionist Weedie Braimah of Toubab Krewe. Now touring behind a recently released debut EP, Basic Minimum Skills Test, the band will headline the Manifestivus music festival this Saturday, July 26, in Cabot.
Assigning the band to a single genre is restricting, but, in the jam tradition, the Nth Power are clearly grounded in funk, jazz and soul. When these five individuals play together, their collective musical force field has the power to uplift and transform. While Glaspie is the bandleader, she's quick to credit Cassarino, the front man and one of the finest young jazz guitarists ever to call Vermont home, with helping to define the band's sound.
"Nick is a genius," Glaspie says in a recent phone interview from the road while touring with Dumpstaphunk. "He destroys the guitar, and his voice is like an angel."
She adds that Edgar is the "silent killer." "You have no idea what's coming," she says of her talented bassist. "I'm so blessed and honored to be in this band."
As one of the most in-demand drummers today, Glaspie can play any style of music, but she claims funk as her foundation and first love. That's evident in the band's bombastic grooves.
"My mission is to have funk recognized worldwide," she says. "Without funk, there'd be no disco, no hip-hop. What I like to show is versatility. I'm a funk musician who can play other styles and keep it funky."
Glaspie grew up in Maryland and North Carolina in a religious family. She says she soaked up gospel in church. By age 8, she was a recognized talent and became the church's drummer, playing alongside her mother on keyboards.
Glaspie moved to Boston in 2001 to study at the Berklee College of Music and soon made a name for herself at Wally's Café, a jazz club. There she proved herself and formed lasting relationships with musicians including CeeLo Green, Dave Fiuczynski, State Radio and Meshell Ndegeocello, among others.
"That's where everything started for me, pretty much where I learned everything," Glaspie says of her tenure in Boston.
She credits her time with perfectionist Beyoncé for learning the skills and work ethic it takes to manage a band successfully. Everyone in the Nth Power has a role, but Glaspie welcomes hers as the leader.
"You can delegate certain things, but you've still got to make sure they're done properly," she explains. "I do things right."
Glaspie's positive energy and upbeat attitude are infectious. When asked how she sustains that spirit, she replies, "I don't have a choice. I've decided this is how I'm going to be. You can get sucked into a vortex, or you can decide to be the light in the world. I dispel negative energy with positive," Glaspie says. "That's how I recharge, by playing the music I love with the people I love."
That's evident to anyone who experiences the Nth Power's buoyant fusion of funk, jazz, gospel and soul. Their music flows from one genre to another, without a superfluous note or riff, into a harmonious sound that's imaginative, passionate and fresh. Listening to the music, you get a sense that it's never quite the same as they've played it before. This is original live music.
"There's spirit swirling all around us, we're in touch with that," Glaspie says. "We all believe in different things, but we all believe in something that's more important than the physical realm."
Metaphysical musings aside, the Nth Power understand they're still bound to the same earthly plane as the rest of us. But something of the divine just might pass through their music to the crowd, and perhaps spark some good through the power of the groove.
"There are so many horrible things going on in the world," Glaspie says. "If you focus on that, it'll kill you; you lose faith in mankind. We're trying to restore faith. That's our only hope."
The Nth Power play Saturday, July 26, at the Manifestivus "La Fiesta Loca" in Cabot. Weekend-long festival, $60; Saturday day pass, $50. manifestivus.com
The original print version of this article was headlined "Power Trip"