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Nikki Glaspie and The Nth Power can’t escape major funk

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No one really knows the origin of “funk”, but music mavens swear that some guy named Adam – AKA “Thunder Thumbs” – was the first one to throw down a driving vamp on an electric bass. And even though The Nth Power hasn’t been around quite that long, with their nasty fusion of soul, jam – and funk – the all-star ensemble promises that you will know them from Adam.

The fresh collaboration – drummer Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk, Beyoncé), keyboardist Nigel Hall (Lettuce, Warren Haynes Band), bassist Nate Edgar (John Brown's Body), percussionist Weedie Braimah (Kreative Pandemonium, Toubab Krewe) and guitarist Nick Cassarino (Jennifer Hartswick Band) – brings together five leading lights in music to create a sound as distinctive as its message is profound.

With gospel-tinged three-part harmonies and a merciless blend of world-beat, funk, gospel and jazz, The Nth Power proves that exceptional music can be exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.

The band kicks off the second leg of their debut Thank You Winter Tour tonight with a 9 p.m. gig at Last Exit Live in Phoenix. From there the funketeers will be spreading their global message of love and understanding in Colorado and Utah in late January and early February 2014, before ending on a warmer note with two performances at Best Fest in Costa Rica.

Named for their new single, "Thank You", the tour builds on a run of impressive live debuts in late 2013 – including an acclaimed set at the Bear Creek Music Festival and a 12-show Eastern swing highlighted by a performance with Lettuce at Chicago's Concord Music Hall.

The band’s brilliant rhythmist Glaspie spoke with me recently about the The Nth Power’s tour and remarkable lineup. Even though she’s experienced a number of “first nights’, she confessed that this one was special.

“It absolutely is. And it’s funny because I was talking about that last night with my girlfriend. I was like, ‘I'm really excited ‘cause I never liked being home. I love what I do, but it’s always bittersweet when I leave the house. I'm like, ‘Oh man, l love my bed.’ I have a dog and I've got family here and I love being here. But I'm excited to leave my house again (laughing).”

The alliance was much more than happenstance for Glaspie, going so far to describe it as destiny. “Absolutely without a doubt. It is fate. And the crazy thing is that everybody in the band, I've known for probably eight years or more, except for the percussionist. We met probably two years ago. It’s obvious that God put us in the place that we needed to be to understand that this is what we have to do.”

And what they have to do is play some incredible music to audiences around the world. The youthful veteran professed to a few differences in global crowds. “Yeah, yeah definitely. In Japan, people are more reserved I would say. They sit and they watch and they don’t talk, they don’t move.”

“I really think that it’s the ultimate respect to pay attention, pay undivided attention. So that’s what they do. And when the song is over, they clap, and then that’s it. They don’t make any more noise and they just wait for you to start again and keep playing.”

“I think of it as a challenge every time I go to Japan because for a drummer, if people aren’t dancing, I'm not doing my job. So I try to make every single person in the audience move something, even if it’s just a toe tap or the snap of a finger. But my goal ultimately is to get everybody in the room moving.”

Glaspie definitely knows how to get people moving – due in part to the fact that she’s been playing virtually her whole life. “I started playing drums when I was two. I started getting paid for playing drums when I was 15. I was a full time drummer for my church when I was about eight or nine.”

“Then we moved from Maryland to North Carolina when I started my first year of high school. And then it was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to get paid, because I had been playing in church for free for years.”

Not surprisingly, Glaspie has used all of that finely-tuned talent to play with some extraordinary artists, among them Beyoncé and Ivan Neville. And also not surprisingly, she’s learned a few lessons along the way.

“I would have to say just an overall work ethic. I learned a lot from Beyoncé because she is a work horse. She does not stop. She is persistent and incessant. It’s like she’s obsessed (laughing) with perfection.”

“It’s definitely something that I admire and I'm trying to take a page out of that book. I try not to go overboard, there are limits to everything. You can't have a 20-hour rehearsal and expect to get results in the last eight hours of that.”

Glaspie has learned a few distasteful lessons as well. “Because I'm a female that plays the drums, people are like, ‘Oh, you’re the drummer?” I still deal with it occasionally. As far as being young, I’ve run into a couple of things just as far as experience goes. People thought that I didn’t really have experience.”

“I didn’t have experience at that level but I’ve been touring around since I was 19. I’d been touring for three years before I got the gig. And before that, I had just played at clubs or in church. I guess I did run into that a little bit, but not the way that you would think.”

Misguided music fans sometimes mistakenly believe that drummers just sit inconspicuously in the back of the stage and just play along. But Glaspie knows better. “I learned a long time ago that the band is only as good as their drummer (laughing).”

“It does just come down to that. I am driving the bus and it’s my favorite thing to do. I had a teacher at college that taught me that because I was a drummer, I am the leader of the band. It’s like I tell them where to go because they can't go without me. I love driving the bus. I'm a driver (laughing).”

The bus driver was eager to point out the fact that funk is underappreciated. “People don’t recognize funk the way that I think it should be recognized. There’s not even a funk category for Grammy’s. There’s not a funk category when you register your songs.”

“Without funk, hip hop would not exist. There are certain types of R & B that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for funk. Funk is a major influence on lots of different types of music, pop music even. Funk led to disco. Disco led to dance. It’s like there’s a whole bunch of music that just would not have happened if funk didn’t happen first, you know?”

Yeah Nikki, we know. And all we can say to the talented Ms. Glaspie is, “Funk you very much.”

Here are the tour dates for the Thank You Winter Tour:

Jan. 29 Last Exit Live Phoenix, Ariz.

Jan. 31 Shakedown Bar Aspen, Colo.

Feb. 1 Cervantes Denver, Colo.

Feb. 4 Urban Lounge Salt Lake City, Utah

Feb. 7 Costa Ballena, Costa Rica

Feb. 9 Costa Ballena, Costa Rica

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