But oddly enough, for as synapse-busting and transporting as his music can be, no director or studio has ever called on him to record a score for a science-fiction film. It's a total missed opportunity. (Valerian's music was composed by the prolific Alexandre Desplat.) Despite his love for the genre, Hancock insists he doesn't need rocketships on screen to take you on a journey. Every Hancock creation is a trip to parts unknown.
"I would love to do that," he says when asked about penning music for a sci-fi epic. "But I'm able to explore new territory through emotions. Emotions provide such a variety of expressions and experiences. That in itself is a territory that's never depleted. That in itself is like a galaxy. Human emotion. How we respond to things. Consequently, I'm able to travel that kind of space territory regardless of what type of film I might be working on."
What type of star-speckled musical vistas are in his future? His last record, a globe-trotting collection of imaginative covers called The Imagine Project, was released in 2010, and he's been teasing a follow-up in interviews for the last few years. In 2015, he told Billboard he was in the studio with Kendrick Lamar-affiliated artists like the bassist Thundercat and the producer Flying Lotus. Earlier this year, saxophonist Terrace Martin, who is currently touring with Hancock's band, mentioned in a Rolling Stone interview that they'd been recording with younger jazz luminaries like Kamasi Washington, Derrick Hodge, and Robert Glasper. Martin promised "some gangster shit."
Hancock doesn't exactly put it that way. He describes the recording sessions for the upcoming project as a workshop-like environment where ideas flowed freely. There's no official release date yet -- he's touring this summer, testing out material on the road, and he says they're still trying to get some rappers who he can't mention yet on the record, too -- but he thinks it might end up getting released in bits and pieces rather than all at once. "Because of technology today, there is no single method of releasing a record project," he says. "There's a lot of flexibility in doing that."
Also, what's the rush? Hancock is clearly enjoying life as a jazz elder statesman, a role that's pretty different from the task-master he plays in Valerian. He's soaking it all up. At one point in our conversation, he looks out his window and notices the arc of a rainbow in the sky. "That's pretty far out," he laughs. "Maybe there's a pot of gold waiting for me."
Or another planet to explore.